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Petition for more dementia choirs – Will the politicians listen?

The TV series «Demenskoret» on NRK has had tremendous success, and numerous new dementia choirs have been established nationwide. In a meeting with state secretaries from Arbeiderpartiet professionals from the music therapy community presented a petition, advocating for the establishment of dementia choirs throughout the country.

Tuesday 13 June secretaries Ole Henrik Krat Bjørkholt (The Ministry of Health) and Odin Adelsten Aunan Bohmann (The Ministry of Culture and Equality) met with professionals from CREMAH (Centre for Research in Music and Health, NMH), Norsk forening for musikkterapi (NFMT), Norges korforbund and Sang i eldreomsorgen (Krafttak for sang).

They propose a government implementation package in the form of a national grant scheme, which ensures access to dementia choirs for all those in need.

– The country has woken up, said Aunan Bohmann as he wished everyone welcome.

Rune Frank Brunslid from Norges korforbund (The Norwegian Choir Federation) appropriately began with the federation's slogan: "Singing throughout life.”

– For people with dementia, the choir rehearsal is often the only social gathering point they have throughout the week, he explains.

Beatrix van Doorn from Sang i eldreomsorgen (Singing In Eldercare) added:

– In connection with dementia choirs, we often discuss individuals with dementia who live at home. But it also applies to those residing in eldercare facilities. Both should be part of a larger ecosystem. We also know that transitioning from home to an institution can be challenging. These processes can become more stable with smooth transitions and supportive services that accompany them throughout the journey.

She also highlights the importance of those working in the institutions, and the need to collaborate and be familiar with each other. However, the institutions require guidance and support from professional communities to build resilient services.

Memories associated with music

«Why dementia choirs?» was one of the questions answered by Karette Stensæth, leader of CREMAH:

– Research on choir singing and dementia shows that choir singing can reduce depression and promote psychological well-being, quality of life, and cognition in individuals with dementia.

She referred to the study «Choir, Dementia, and Quality of Life» conducted in conjunction with the TV series on NRK.

– One of the measurements shows a significant improvement in mood among choir participants after each rehearsal, compared to measurements taken before the rehearsals. The other measurements show no negative changes. Mood can also be understood more broadly, as vitality.

Stensæth explained that the areas of the brain associated with musical memory can be relatively well preserved, even in later stages of the disease.

– Most people have memories associated with music, whether they have been involved in music themselves or not, and therefore participation in choir singing can be beneficial – for everyone.

What can we do to give life meaning, even with the disease? she continued, referring to the example she calls the «perhaps the highlight of the TV series» – choir member Jan Runar singing «You'll never walk alone.»

– It's his resources that strike us; he sings so beautifully. It's the sense of accomplishment, joy, and musical self-expression that we witness. We know that the disease is there, but it's not in the foreground, she pointed out.

The visitors on their way in to The Ministry of Culture and Equality.

Answers to public health campaign

Jelena Golubovic was the pianist of the Demenskoret tv series, and is also the professional responsible at NFMT and a researcher at CREMAH.

– As we have seen on TV, dementia choirs are a highly relevant model that is both easy to implement and has a positive impact, she said.

Among other things, Golubovic and Stensæth refer to the quality reform «Leve hele livet» (Living a Full Life), where the goal is to provide better assistance and support for all older adults to cope with life, as well as the Government's new public health campaign for mental health.

Three of the campaign's points are to do something active, do something together, and do something meaningful. They believe a national implementation of dementia choirs will address all of these aspects for individuals with dementia.

An increasing number of individuals with dementia

– Robust and sustainable dementia choir programs require expertise, specifically a combination of music therapy, dementia- and music-related knowledge, and the connection between them, Golubovic emphasized.

She highlighted the keywords «quality» and «continuity».

Stensæth and Golubovic urge Norway to be a pioneer and implement knowledge-based dementia choir programs that are distributed fairly across the country. They particularly emphasize the potential for volunteerism in this field; another crucial factor for potential initiatives. They added that educational programs in culture, music, and health fields are ready to provide assistance.

With our expertise, we can achieve a positive health impact and benefit many individuals, including caregivers.

Karette Stensæth Professor and leader for CREMAH

Furthermore, Stensæth points out that the number of people with dementia in Norway is expected to double by 2050.

– Dementia choirs are an easily feasible measure that includes many people, provides joy and quality of life, and is relatively inexpensive. With our expertise, we can achieve a positive health impact and benefit many individuals, including caregivers. The need for initiatives and activities like this is significant, considering the future and dementia, she stated.

They concluded with an appeal:

– Dementia choirs can create unique communities that dementia care needs. Together, we can advance music and dementia practices and research! Together we can take the lead, not only nationally but also internationally.

– A fantastic example

Although no promises have been made, Ole Henrik Krat Bjørkholt responded that increased investment in health aligns with their thinking.

– We want to enhance the range of activities for older adults and ensure that society accommodates demographic changes, he stated.

We want an age- and dementia-friendly society. This is a fantastic example of how it can be done.

Ole Henrik Krat Bjørkholt State Secretary

He emphasized that good health is not solely provided by the healthcare system.

– Let's address issues before they arise. We want an age- and dementia-friendly society. This is a fantastic example of how it can be done.

– It's easy to become enthusiastic by listening to you, declared Odin Adelsten Aunan Bohmann.

Jelena Golubovic with the Dementiachoir on NRK. Foto: Julia Marie Nagelstad, Nordisk Banijay, NRK

The voice of the people

Inger-Pernille Stramrud from the Choir Association initiated the petition. She shares that she personally knows one of the participants from Demenskoret.

– I witnessed the change, his pride, how he straightened up. Perhaps I can contribute to making that happen for more people.

Stramrud had the honour of presenting the petition to the politicians, a thick stack of personal stories detailing how music and singing have helped individuals with dementia and their caregivers.

– Now the voice of the people is in your hands, Stramrud solemnly declared as she passed on the collection.

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