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Alchemy Chorus and the Understanding Dementia MOOC: a valuable blend

Alchemy Chorus, Canberra’s dementia-inclusive choir is now into its third year of turning music into gold. And with 6 members of the Alchemy community completing the MOOC Understanding Dementia in 2018, the Alchemy blend is proving even more valuable.

Alchemy Chorus is encouraging others with time and passion to develop similar purposeful, engaging singing communities. Following the Alchemy Chorus model, Bronwyn Hendy, another MOOC graduate, has established the Good Life Chorus in Ryde, NSW and is seeing wonderful results. ‘If we can do it, so can anyone’, says Alchemy Chorus founder/director Brian Triglone OAM.

When Alchemy Chorus was created in 2016, it was already well known that music generally, and singing particularly, was a powerful tool for unlocking memories and channelling social and emotional responses in people with dementia, and that the ability to sing remains when other abilities have diminished.

However, there was much more to discover in the Alchemy mix. Brian Triglone admits that one of the outcomes of developing an engaging and purposeful singing community has come as something of a surprise. He had no idea that a performing community choir would become so invaluable to the carers of those living with dementia. ‘The responsibility on a carer is enormous and often unrelenting, so we offer a weekly opportunity for couples to engage in a normal, enjoyable activity.’

After 2 years of weekly rehearsals, 5 public performances, and enriched by the MOOC, Alchemy Chorus is proving that its inclusive, performing community choir model is completely validated. The choir has grown from a handful of members to a regular weekly attendance of about 75. For Don and Bev Aitkin, members since 2016, ‘We are just ordinary people who have a disease and when we go to Alchemy Chorus we go together and it’s a glorious ordinariness.’

Choir members Tom and Margaret Anderson say that joining Alchemy Chorus ‘has been a most wonderful and enjoyable experience and has become even better as time has gone on. We are blessed with a marvellous group of volunteers who make it all happen while we enjoy a morning of singing and social contact. It is the day of the week that Margaret and I most look forward to’.

The magic is so much more than the singing. According to the Andersons, ‘Friendships are made by both carers and their cared one and we all spend time at morning tea and before choir begins on catching up. Those being cared for are left to freely roam and they are treated with great compassion by everyone, which leaves carers with some free time to chat to other carers and volunteers. It is an outlet for us all. It is also an opportunity for the carers to speak with other carers about matters - something that doesn't happen very often.

And it is not only those living with dementia and their carers who benefit. The team of volunteers feel privileged to share the Alchemy experience and six of the volunteers have added to their understanding of dementia by completing the MOOC Understanding Dementia and encourage others to do the same.

Applying some of the MOOC’s outcomes has brought greater emphasis on social interaction, with choir members having a say in the selection/rejection of songs, the sharing of life stories and magic music moments. 

For Rob Leach ‘the MOOC was a great help in understanding the nature and variety of the dementia classification, and this assists with relating and communicating with the people concerned. I would recommend it be undertaken by as many of our volunteers as possible. I undertook the course as a logical extension of my volunteering with the Alchemy Chorus where I see it as a great background in sharing with our members, both dementia sufferers and their carers. I now appreciate the need for social interaction, knowing that those with dementia and in particular, their carers, can be very isolated’.

Erica Thomson says, ‘I certainly learnt a lot. However my main learning points were about the varieties of dementia and people with dementia wanting normal activities.’ Other important learning outcomes were in communication strategies and recognising the needs of carers. ‘Carers are very important people and need lots of care themselves and understanding too’.
You can see more of Alchemy Chorus at and Good Life Chorus