Hi my name is Cathy and I work at the Grange care home in Wickford, Essex. I am writing to tell you about the dementia choir I have started within the home. I have worked at The Grange for about 11 years and done most of the roles involved. I was asked if I would like to take over the role of wellbeing lead providing all the activities in the home. I was unsure, but accepted on a trial basis and ended up loving what I do. I tried to do activities that would inspire individuals and reignite old hobbies, interests and start new ones. I am a member of Rock Choir for the past 5 years so I understand the benefits of belonging to a choir for myself, how it makes me feel when I am singing and enjoying myself and so decided to start a resident’s dementia choir in September 2018.
A lot of the residents said “oh no I can’t sing” so I had to reassure them to just give it a go. I told them if you can talk you can sing! Most of them told me they have never been in a singing group while others said they were in their school choir which brought back fond memories. I really didn’t know how this was going to go, or how it would be received. It was hard at first with so many different needs to consider. I even sometimes had people falling asleep or getting up mid-session and leaving. I had to work out a method of teaching that suited everyone individually, keeping their attention and making it enjoyable. I used the skills that I learned in my Rock Choir group and adapted them using simple hand instructions and directions that are familiar and memorable. We pondered long and hard thinking of a suitable name for our group, we decided on One Voice Choir as the residents feel they sing as one voice. Very apt I thought!
We started doing shows for family and friends, this involved lots of rehearsals which the residents fully committed to and were excited by. They said they felt they had something important to look forward to and the buzz around the home between residents and staff was
fantastic. it initiated a lot of conversation so much so that a lot of staff and family members wanted to be involved in what the choir was doing so I gave them all specific rolls within the choir, such as the logistics of transporting the choir to different venues, helping with shows, arranging props and generally being there to support them. I couldn’t have done it without them!
We have since done a further two shows in the community, each one improving on the last. The choir has turned into a community event and we have even had calls from care facilities wanting us to come and sing for them. We now go out to other care homes and perform, inspiring others to sing and believe anything is possible as we do. Our manager has bought us uniforms, this gives the choir another reminder of what we are doing and they said it makes them feel professional, smart and important. They have learned many modern songs that they had never even heard before, reading lyrics and keeping time with the music.
The choir work so hard at every rehearsal .They say they enjoy being part of a team having something to look forward to, increasing confidence, building new relationships and feeling important. Staff have noticed a difference too some of the residents that would previously isolate themselves in their rooms and prefer not to socialise now, having heard rehearsals taking place, have decided they would like to be involved. Residents are remembering more, they are now using their reading skills again, talking more and being more sociable, it is so lovely to see friendship bonds being made! For some residents being part of the choir has encouraged them to join other activities improving their confidence and overall wellbeing.
The residents have said for example “The choir gives me a new lease of life and I feel confident. I would never have spoken to strangers never mind singing in front of them and now I like to sit up the front to show off my talent”. One Voice Choir has created a new community of people who love to sing. The residents are known to
burst into song in the evening when I am not there so this is impacting on them all the time. They now have lots to talk about sharing their joint experiences and feel they have got to know each other so much better. They listen to the radio and when a song comes on they think is this suitable for the choir, they tell me about it and we listen together and make a decision if we will use it or not, so they are using the skills they have learned at choir in other areas of their life. We often have family and friends in our practice sessions and I think they love it as much as we do. When I am with the choir I feel we are a group of friends having fun, learning and supporting each other to live our best life. They inspire me and others every day that anything is possible. We are what we are, not the best singers and sometimes things don’t go to plan but the fact that we exist I feel is an achievement in itself.
I have attached some testimonials from members of the choir and, in their own words, this is what they had to say:
PG – the choir gives me something to focus on. When I know the choir is coming up I feel excited and I look forward to it. Every day I do ordinary things but the choir is so different for me, I chat about it to my friends because they love it too.
EF – I used to sing when I was at school, I was in the school choir, after that, the only time I sang was when I was doing my cleaning at home. When I came to the grange I was so pleased they had a choir so I joined immediately. Since joining the One Voice choir it has given me a new interest and I like being with people that have a shared interest. Being in the choir helps me socially and I find it’s a release when I can just sing out loud! When we all sing together I feel that we are bonding.
DM – I find that being in the choir helps me forget my problems and aches and pains for a while, I suffer with pain in my hands and when I
am in choir I forget about it for a while. I feel that when we are in the room at choir, we are all equal no matter what our problems.