The Promise of Intergenerational Choir for Improving Psychosocial and Cognitive Health for those with Dementia: The Voices in Motion Project

  • Nicholas Tamburri University of Victoria
  • Michaella Trites University of Victoria
  • Debra Sheets University of Victoria
  • Andre Smith University of Victoria
  • Stuart MacDonald University of Victoria
Keywords: dementia, psychosocial function, cognitive function, intergenerational choir, social engagement

Abstract

Rates of dementia continue to increase along with life expectancy. As neither dementia’s cause
nor its cure is well understood from the perspective of medical science, further investigations of
complementary lifestyle and non-pharmaceutical interventions are imperative. Although arts-based
therapies have been explored selectively, the significance of these interventions for persons with
dementia (PwD) remains undervalued in both the general population and scientific literature. This
study aims to examine one promising lifestyle intervention, the effect of intergenerational choir
participation, on psychosocial and cognitive function for PwD. Participants (n = 32), in partnership
with their family caregivers and local high school students, participated in an intergenerational choir
for as many as three choir seasons spanning up to 18 months of follow-up. Participants underwent an
expansive assessment of psychosocial, physiological, and cognitive function every four to six weeks
as part of an intensive repeated measures design. Here, the potential benefits of choir for PwD were
explored in relation to change for select cognitive (Mini-Mental State Examination: MMSE; Trail
Making Task A: TMT-A; Word Recall) and psychosocial (Patient Health Questionnaire: PHQ-9)
indicators. Multilevel modelling was used to index initial levels (at baseline) and change (spanning
up to eight follow-up assessments) in function for measures of global cognition, executive functioning,
episodic memory, and depressive symptoms. Notably, no significant declines were observed for MMSE
or TMT-A tasks. As expected, episodic memory function continued to decline, with a significant
lessening of depressive symptoms and signs observed for the PHQ-9. These results suggest that
despite the progressive nature of underlying neuropathology for dementia subtypes like Alzheimer’s
Disease, preservation of select cognitive functions as well as mitigation of psychosocial comorbidities
(depressive symptoms) is possible through participation in an intergenerational choir.

Published
2019-10-04
Section
Scholarly Articles