Now Or Never

Caring for a loved one with dementia? Here's why you should join a choir

The Voices in Motion choir is a welcome respite for caregivers, who find community and support while singing their hearts out.

'It brings people together and creates community where they might not otherwise have it,' says choir director

The Voices in Motion choir in Victoria is a welcoming respite for the caregivers of people experiencing memory loss. (Paul Malcolm/CBC)

In the basement of St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Victoria, about 20 people sit on plastic folding chairs, practising vocal warm-ups together.  

"Nice! That had some ring to it, some ping to it," Erica Phare-Berg says brightly, standing in front of an electronic keyboard. For the next hour, she leads this group as they belt out everything from The Beatles to 1920s show tunes. 

It's called the Voices in Motion choir, and they meet here every Wednesday afternoon to practise. What makes this choir unique is that many of its members live with some form of dementia. 

And it welcomes not just people experiencing memory loss, but their caregivers, too.

"It's really important to include caregivers and friends, because these wonderful people need some extra support," says Erica, the conductor and artistic director of Voices in Motion. "There is stigma often attached to memory loss and dementia, and they really need the support of family members." 

It brings people together and creates community, where they may not otherwise have it. - Erica Phare-Berg, choir director of Voices in Motion
Penny has been the primary caregiver for her friend Ralph for the last six years. (Paul Malcolm/CBC)

Singing in the choir 'awakens him'

For the last six years, Penny Ross has been the primary caregiver for her friend, Ralph Kopperson. At first, she was reluctant to join the choir. 

"I like to sing when no one else is around, so it's a little bit harder for me," she says with a laugh. "But Erica is fabulous, and she has drawn me out."

Ralph, who was diagnosed with dementia in 2014, pipes up next to her, "I will go anywhere to sing."

Penny says she loves watching the effect that music has on Ralph. 

He has a form of dementia that causes him to tire easily, but singing in the choir "awakens him," she says. "He goes from sometimes me dragging him out of the house, to him being perked up and awake and engaged." 

Caregiving is like 'having two full-time jobs'

Penny has been friends with Ralph for decades. But she admits the caretaking can take a toll. 

Before she leaves for her full-time job at a local hospital every morning, she makes sure Ralph's breakfast, lunch and medications are all carefully laid out. She drives him to all his appointments, and pays his bills. Lately, he's also needed help with bathing.

"At this point, I consider myself having two full-time jobs." 

"Without Penny, I don't know what I would have gone to," Ralph says slowly. "I'd be a person in a box."

Without Penny, I don't know what I would have gone to. I'd be a person in a box.- Ralph Kopperson
Choir director Erica Phare-Berg leads the Voices in Motion choir (Paul Malcolm/CBC)

The weekly choir practise is a welcome respite for Penny, even if that wasn't always the case. 

"When I first came here, I was very skeptical. I was like, 'Oh god, just one more thing for me to do.' And so my first bit here I was feeling a little resentful."  

But as she kept showing up to sing, Penny started to change her tune. "I have found friends, have found confidantes for me. So yeah, it's starting to be very invaluable to me now." 

If you're interested in joining a Voices in Motion choir, you can find a list of them here.


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