Listening to others in order to blend in, sharpening the acuity of hearing, improving the sense of balance and coordination, strengthening memory and concentration. These are what choristers have to do in order to sing well in a choir. And there is evidence that practising these skills can keep dementia at bay.
Dr Maurine Tsakok, a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist in private practice came up with the idea to examine the efficacy of choral singing, and to see if it can slow down the development of dementia, and promote the mental health of the elderly. It became part of the landmark Jurong Ageing Study, led by Professor Kua Ee Heok, the Tan Geok Yin Professor in Psychiatry and Neuroscience, and a gerontological expert at the Department of Psychological Medicine, National University Health System (NUHS).
Dr Feng Lei, a Research Assistant Professor at the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, is the Principal Investigator (PI) of this research study. He and the research team will use MRI and biological markers to identify the brain activity that leads to improved cognition and mental health.
“Dementia will be a major global public health issue in the coming decades. There are possibly around 28,000 cases of dementia in Singapore now and if nothing is done, this figure could escalate to 50,000 in 2030,” exhorts Prof Kua.
Dr Tsakok experienced a brief episode of amnesia when she was 66. After uncovering studies which claimed that choral singing helps relieve dementia, she signed up with the National University of Singapore Society (NUSS) Choir although she had never sung before.
She became instrumental in galvanising the Choir, when they were looking for a cause, to raise funds for the NUSS Choir Dementia Research study.
Also a member of the NUSS Choir, Ms Tang Kah Rhu has been actively helping to raise funds for this research during the last four years. “Most people are aware, in Singapore, with the projected ageing population, there will be more and more dementia patients. I feel that it is timely for NUS to do this research; I support this good cause,” she shares
Others who also support his cause include Lee Foundation, Singtel, Singapore Press Holdings, PB Tankers and Minerva Motor.
A PhD candidate will be recruited to conduct research and analysis in the area of music and dementia for a period of four years.
The two-year study follows two groups of participants: one group will practise signing in a choir while the other group will go through a health education programme to manage diabetes, diet and exercise – all factors linked to dementia.
If it is proven that singing in a choir can prevent dementia, the two-year study, which commenced in October 2015, could offer the solution to lower healthcare costs, lesser burden on caregivers, improved quality of life for the elderly and ultimately, longer lives.
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