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Everyone loves music and singing….just ask these Wontama residents

Everyone loves music and singing….just ask these Wontama residents

Could coming together to sing a few songs with friends help halt cognitive decline as we age? That’s a question local speech pathologist and Sydney University PhD candidate Penelope Monroe has been exploring during an eight-week pilot study at aged care facility Uniting Wontama.

Residents have been keen participants in the study, which has involved bi-weekly two-hour choir sessions, with regular data collected on language skills and quality of life.

For Penny, the program has been a chance to combine two of her passions: music and research.

“I'm a classical singer and choral conductor by training, that was my previous career. Then I studied speech pathology and rediscovered my love of research while I was doing my clinical masters and thought about how to combine both aspects,” said Penny, who works as a speech pathologist at the Orange Hospital.

“There is a huge amount of research that shows music is really, really good for us and my anecdotal experience of being a choral conductor for many years was observing just how positive being in a group setting and interacting with the music was for the singers. So, I wanted to explore that in a more formal manner.”

The pilot study is just the very early stage of Penny’s research. It is actually unexplored territory and the results will help guide how she sets about a larger study for her PhD.

“I just completed a systematic review looking into who has done what with group singing studies and nobody has looked at cognitive communication skills before. It is a little bit of a shot in the dark, but we know that music uses a lot of the brain that is involved in language, so I guess that is the theory behind it,” she said.

While any conclusions from the research are a long way off, Uniting Wontama Service Manager Helen Mobbs, believes the process has been a rewarding one for residents.

“They’ve had a whole heap of fun and have really looked forward to it,” she said.

“Everyone loves music and singing, and we found the residents all jumped at the chance to be part of it.”

Whether or not the choral singing has impacted on the participants’ cognitive skills or not, Helen said it has been a beneficial experience for all involved.

“It has been an exciting process and really good engagement and community building for the residents. Some are really withdrawn and don’t normally engage in stuff like this, but they have stepped out of their little squares and participated and that I think has been the biggest plus,” said Helen.

“They have got to know each other a little bit better and building that community within our little community here at Wontama has been exciting; building those relationships, but also sharing in such an enjoyable process. It is certainly something that we'd like to continue.”

Penny’s research has been funded by a Health Education and Training Institute (HETI) grant.

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