Saturday, 30 September 2023

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Singaporeans with dementia find their groove at silent disco

SINGAPORE, SINGAPORE — Under flashing disco lights, residents at a Singapore care home held hands and danced to golden oldies as part of an initiative to help those with dementia.

They grooved to hits from the 1940s to the 1980s for about an hour in a silent disco format, listening to the tunes via headphones.

The playlist, curated to get them moving, featured tracks in English, Malay and Chinese dialects at the Apex Harmony Lodge, which specialises in taking care of people with dementia.

“I don’t really know how to dance, I just mess around. I have thick skin,” 54-year-old Christine Chong, who has early-onset dementia, said cheekily.

Another resident, Goh Kian Ho, 63, sang enthusiastically while tapping his foot and clapping his hands to a Hokkien number.

“It’s very good that we can play and sing,” he said.

When the group began to tire from the upbeat boogie-woogie, the DJ slowed the pace with legendary Taiwanese crooner Teresa Teng’s beloved 1970s track “The Moon Represents My Heart”.

A facilitator led the group in waving their arms and swaying their bodies as they listened fondly to the timeless romantic ballad.

Singapore, like many Asian countries, has been grappling with an ageing population and rising dementia rates.

Singapore’s Ministry of Health estimates that 86,000 people –- one in 10 aged 60 and above –- have dementia, with the number expected to grow to 152,000 by 2030.

Research has shown music therapy can be helpful for people with certain conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, the most common type of dementia, which begins with memory loss and can lead to difficulty with conversation and cognition.

“We play old songs, and then they help to trigger the… emotions of our residents that are often associated with certain memories from their past, so this helps to provide a sense of familiarity and comfort for our residents,” said Grace Wong, an associate psychologist at Apex Harmony Lodge.

‘Soundtrack to their lives’

The silent disco, which runs weekly, was inspired by similar ones in nursing homes in the UK and Australia.

It was adapted to local musical tastes by Singaporean Johnson Soh, a former music executive who set up his own company offering music programmes for seniors.

Soh started it after his father was diagnosed with dementia and music from his generation seemed to help.

“He was my first guinea pig actually… his awareness was heightened,” said Soh.

More than 10 establishments in Singapore have adopted the programme since it began in 2019, according to Soh.

Dubbed “Return to the Tea Dance”, the initiative aims to evoke happy memories of Sunday afternoon dances that were popular with young people in 1960s Singapore.

“Everybody has a soundtrack to their lives, so there’s always some music that would have impacted you sometime during your life,” Soh said.

“It is inexplicable, I think music is something that really moves people.”

Meanwhile, the dancing uncles and aunties continued their nostalgic sojourn as they loudly sang along to Doris Day’s “Que Sera Sera”.


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