This intergenerational choir is helping people connect on campus
If you walk past UVic’s Multifaith Centre on a Tuesday morning, you just might hear a choir of voices practicing from within. Voices in Motion (VIM) is an intergenerational choir made up of people with memory loss, caregivers, teenagers, and young adults. Their goal? To build connections and community for their members.
Voices in Motion began in 2017, when Dr. Debra Sheets founded a study alongside the ursing, psychology, sociology, and music departments at UVic to research the effects of participating in a choir on those with dementia. As of September of this year, Voices in Motion is hosted on the UVic Campus and Sacred Heart Church.
As someone who has watched my Grandfather struggle with vascular dementia, one of the most difficult aspects for someone affected by a decline of cognition is the gradual loss of independence and community that they can experience. Even when there is a support system in place, the social circle of someone suffering from dementia can often become quite small.
Voices in Motion is designed for people with dementia, memory loss, and those who are near the end of life to provide a safe space for participants. Examples of activities include stretching at the beginning of practice, asking leading questions to stimulate memories.
In the rehearsal I attended, the question of the day was, “What’s your favourite part of fall?” The answers from members included, “the distinct shuffle of leaves as you walk through them” and “the variety of leaf colours.” Sometimes these questions even lead to moments of genuine comedy.
One of the initiative’s founders, Mary Kennedy, remembers a day when the question was, “What are your least favourite foods?” She said that when a middle-school-aged member told the group that he doesn’t like grapefruit, an older member quickly replied, “Just wait until you are as old as me and taking heart medication. You won’t be allowed to eat grapefruit!”
Kennedy said that because our emotional memory bank is not attacked by dementia, questions like those above can often help stimulate memories.
But the older members of VIM aren’t the only ones who benefit from what the choir has to offer.
Emily Lam, a student in the nursing program, joined Voices in Motion for a practicum placement. Lam is one of several students working with Voices in Motion. She said that she enjoys the choirs — nobody judges singing ability and it is very beginner friendly.
Another younger member is Chanel Mandap, who joined Voices in Motion during her senior year of highschool in 2018.
“Interacting with individuals facing dementia or nearing the end of their lives was a profound experience,” said Mandap. “It was clear that each person brought a wealth of wisdom and a unique perspective, even in the face of cognitive challenges. Listening to their stories, sharing in their joys and sorrows, and witnessing their resilience left an indelible mark on me.”
Kennedy says that Voices in Motions works to demystify dementia among the teenagers and young adults who attend. Not only are they learning about dementia as a whole, but learning how to talk to people with it.
“Any seniors, dementia or not, love young people,” said Kennedy. “It gives them hope for the future.”
Mandap said that her experiences with Voices Motion motivated her to seek a career in medicine. “I wanted to go into medicine to help people reach their peak health and wellness, while feeling supported emotionally and socially,” said Mandap. “By engaging with older adults, many of whom receive frequent treatment, I could go a step further and understand what positive changes are necessary for the health care system.”
Not only does Voices in Motion help slow the rate of dementia by motivating older members to engage their minds weekly, it provides all participants — young and old — with a sense of community. No matter how small it may seem, it gives them something to live for. Whether it’s a new song to learn for the week, or new faces to meet, Voices in Motions gives its members a community who truly cares about them.
If you would like to join Voices in Motion, membership for students is free and more information can be found at their website.