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Silent discos becoming a hit at eldercare centres here

Janice Tai on 09 Sep 2019

The Straits Times


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Bodies are shuffling in a room bathed in luminous disco lights and throbbing to beats emanating from individual wireless headphones.


This silent "disco" festival fad has in recent years been played out among young people dancing the night away in a club.


But this time around, it is elderly people with dementia who are hitting the dance floor, putting aside their walking sticks and frames.


Eldercare facilities in Singapore are fast catching on to the potential of using silent discos to get otherwise socially withdrawn and physically inactive seniors up and moving.


Homes for the elderly in Australia and Britain that run silent discos noted that people with dementia were able to recall lyrics of familiar songs and access certain memories despite their cognitive decline.


Silent discos have been trending among millennials over the past few years. Instead of having music blasted over a speaker system, partygoers put on their own wireless headphones and dance to tunes of their own choosing.


While it may look odd with people dancing ostensibly in silence, fans say it allows for a more immersive and curated dance experience.


For the elderly with dementia, who may be easily confused or distracted, having their own headsets helps them to focus and enjoy the music, said Mr Johnson Soh, director of SanCare Asia, which has been running silent disco sessions in three dementia daycare centres under Alzheimer's Disease Association (ADA) and social service organisation Awwa this year.


This pilot programme, which started in March, is spearheaded by Lien Foundation in partnership with ADA and Awwa.


ADA intends to expand the programme to its five other dementia daycare centres by next March.


Apex Harmony Lodge, the first purpose-built nursing home in Singapore for people with dementia, will be introducing the programme to its residents next month.


The Enabling Festival, a festival which aims to raise awareness of dementia, had a silent disco party at the National Design Centre yesterday for about 100 members of the public to experience how music can evoke memories or emotions, especially for people with dementia.


Last Wednesday, seniors including husband-and-wife pair, Mr Fang Shie Wooi, 88, and Madam Tan Sok Kheng, 85, grooved for nearly an hour to popular old tunes - such as Teresa Teng's Hokkien ballads and Mandarin ditties - without relying on their walking frame or stick.


They were dancing with a group of eight others at ADA's New Horizon Centre in Jurong Point.


In recent months, Mr Fang has been having problems with his balance. Yet he was persuaded to join his wife and dance by her side when he saw how much fun she was having in the silent disco programme.


ADA deputy chief executive Theresa Lee said: "With music and movement, you see the seniors come alive and their communication, moods and well-being improve. Research has also shown that music can minimise agitation, anxiety and depression."


ADA said it has measured the outcomes of its other music therapy programme using scientific scales and found that most of the participants have seen improvements in their moods and communication.


Music, which targets areas of the brain not affected by dementia, brings back a sense of identity to patients, said British neurologist Oliver Sacks in a 2014 documentary on music therapy for those who suffer from Alzheimer's or other neurological ailments.


When The Straits Times met Madam Lily Goh, 80, last Wednesday, she said excitedly that it was her first time participating in the silent disco session, though it was actually her 20th session since the programme started.


Yet she had no problems singing along, word for word, to Malay song Rasa Sayang when it was played on her headset.


Said Madam Goh: "My mother used to sing this song to me when we lived in a kampung in Tampines back then."


Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.



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