It’s not every day that a group of older adults get an opportunity to record their own CD. And yet that’s what happened to members of the Glee Club at Baycrest Hospital in Toronto.

The Glee Club was created to study how participating in a choir could benefit the health and well-being of adults both cognitively intact as well as those diagnosed with dementia. Working under a three-part study phase, older adults from the hospital’s nursing home and adult day care program took part in a 16-week choral group that consisted of one-hour sessions.

014Dr. Amy Clements-Cortes, Music and Health Research Collaboratory at the University of Toronto and Senior Music Therapist/Practice Advisor at Baycrest, explains the studies measured a number of dimensions. “We completed tests before and after all sessions. To assess such dimensions as anxiety, pain, mood, energy, and happiness”, Clements-Cortes says.

Independent research assistants analyzed the qualitative data that was sourced from participant interviews and identified themes. ” The themes that emerged from the first study were friendship and companionship, simplicity, happiness, uplifting and positive feeling, relaxing, and reduced anxiety and fun”, notes Clements-Cortes.

The second phase involved participants rating their own level of mood, anxiety, happiness, pain and energy. Participants rated their emotion on scales represented by faces, to help participants express different emotions and to help participants who couldn’t comprehend the questions. The results of the second study were as equally optimistic as the first.

“Energy, mood and happiness increased while pain and anxiety decreased”, says Clements-Cortes. “The clients identified how therapeutic music really is.”

The third study, which involved mild to severely impaired older adults from the nursing home, is currently in its final stages. Results of the study will be presented soon.

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Clements-Cortes notes the Glee Clubs had a profound effect on the participants. “The clients really loved it”,she says. “They wanted the choir to continue. They went to the CEO (of the hospital) and said, ‘It’s so beneficial you can’t stop it.’ We went back to the donor and she agreed to fund Glee Club 1 and 2 without a research component.”

Both choirs perform on occasion at Baycrest. Last year, Clements-Cortes successfully applied for a grant which gave the club the opportunity to record their own CD.

“They called it, Growing Older, Singing Better.  It’s exciting, they needed a challenge”, says Clements-Cortes. “We had sound engineers from a recording studio come to Baycrest  The CD can be purchased by contacting Baycrest Hospital, Department of Culture Arts and Innovation

Music, believes Clements-Cortes, plays a vital role in patient care. “The fact that someone is in a severe stage of dementia and they can’t tell you their name or aren’t aware of their surroundings, sometimes when they’re engaged with music and have that clarity for a brief period of time – to me that’s really powerful.”

010Throughout the Glee Club’s history, many special moments stand out.  “For one of the first concerts we gave two years ago, the seniors invited their families to attend”, recalls Clements-Cortes.

“You have older adults singing on stage and their grandchildren are in the audience. It was a role reversal. It was awesome to see the seniors being congratulated by their grandchildren and for families to see their relatives in this different light.”

Clements-Cortes is often touched by what she sees. “The natural spontaneous interaction that happens is very moving. Someone being so moved by music that they get up and start to dance or move in their chair. The fact that they were low in mood before they came, could barely get themselves to the program and when they’re there, they’re full of energy, smiling, participating.”

In one music therapy session last week, the co-therapists incorporated multimedia. “A  picture of Yul Brynner in ‘The King and I’ was shown and right away one of the moderately Alzheimer’s patients recognized him and said, ‘Yul Brynner!’”, notes Clements-Cortes.

“We started to sing ‘Shall We Dance’ and she sang along. Not all the lyrics, but the proper pitch and melody. It’s amazing how music is preserved. It’s distributed across the whole brain and one of the last things to go.”