A WA study is seeking to show how and why singing is good for older people.

A group of older West Australians has been practising since May for a choral concert in just over three months.

Aged between 57 and 82, the members of the Mandurah-based ‘Rhythm for Life, Music for life’ choir are also setting out to show that music is good for your health.

Each week they meet for three hours at the local Access seniors centre to share morning tea, socialise and sing.

The choir was formed by Musica Viva with funding from the federal government’s Australia Council for the Arts and its progress is being evaluated by researchers from the University of Western Australia (UWA).

Musica Viva ran a similar program for older people in Sydney’s Campbelltown region in 2007 and 2008 and the group’s CEO, Mary Jo Capps says the project delivered clear and measurable medical outcomes.

“Just doing modest warm ups and singing exercises for three hours once a week helped increase their lung capacity and improved their blood flow,” she said.

“But the effects on participants’ self confidence was off the scale.

“We saw big decreases in depression and social isolation. Some of them were going through major life changes with partners dying and other difficulties associated with ageing but the workshops gave a focus to their week.”

At the start of the trial, participants filled out questionnaires on their health and wellbeing. To get an idea of the progress they have made, the choristers will go through the same process at the end of the 28-week project.

The team of researchers from UWA has been working with other choirs made up of older people since 2007 and it too has had encouraging findings.

But Project Officer, Julie Fedele hopes to expand the research in this area with the Mandurah group.

“Next year with Musica Viva we are hoping to record some more biomedical measures,” she said. “We are looking at getting a nurse involved to do things like lung function tests.

“It’s pretty obvious that singing is beneficial but it’s hard to quantify the benefits. You get plenty of qualitative, anecdotal comments saying it is great but there isn’t a lot of quantitative evidence.

“We would like to be able to try and measure the different aspects of group singing to see what it is about it that makes it beneficial. Is it the emotional engagement, the social engagement, the act of singing or simply reminiscing about past life experiences?”

Ms Capps said Musica Viva plans to develop a ‘how-to’ manual to help communities roll out the program across the country.

“It’s very important that people have a capacity to feel that they fit in and to feel that they can be engaged in their own community,” she said.

“A lot of the participants in [our previous] project had not been getting out of the house but now they have a reason to. They have made contact with other people and some of them are meeting up at other times during the week.

“And because singing itself is such an exhilarating experience, you just feel a whole lot better after doing it.”

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