Voices in Motion

Dr. Debra Sheets
University of Victoria
Q: What did we learn?

Research findings demonstrate choral singing to be a joyful social experience that reinforces participants’ sense of identity, competence, and accomplishment. Social singing is a superstimulus, drawing upon emotional and procedural brain systems unaffected by dementia, which permits those with the disease to participate to the same degree as any other individual—a critical consideration for increasing social contact and reducing stigma. Caregivers also benefit as they experience reduced levels of distress, and seek help from those with shared experiences.

Q: Why is this knowledge important?

Given that there is no cure for dementia, dementia informed arts, and social/recreational programs can improve quality of life for persons living with dementia and their caregivers.

The Voices in Motion study is changing attitudes through dynamic public concerts celebrating the singers’ achievements and inspiring hope that one can live well despite the challenges of dementia. The performances reduce the stigma of dementia by demonstrating the amazing abilities of the choristers: individuals with memory loss can learn new songs, sing harmonies, and master complex rhythms and tempos. Weekly choir rehearsals foster intergenerational friendships, reshape the views of high-school students, increase overall well-being and counter societal stereotypes.

Q: What are the next steps?

Our team is building on our research findings by partnering on an international grant proposal that will use an innovative Arts Impact Measurement System (AIMS) mobile app to collect voice samples and other psychosocial data “in the moment” from participants living with dementia and their care partners in a community-based choir. The mobile platform focuses on three core strategies for data collection: self-report rating scales; touch-screen responses (e.g. an affect grid allowing assessment of both affective valence (positive vs negative) and arousal (high vs low) with a single screen touch); and voice capture systems (participant responds to a prompt which is recorded and allows semantic (e.g., words) and acoustic (e.g. pitch, intensity) analysis.


Voices in Motion is multi-generational choir and a two-year research study led by Dr. Debra Sheets, along with fellow research affiliates of UVic’s Institute on Aging and Lifelong Health — Stuart MacDonald (Psychology) and Andre Smith (Sociology) — along with Mary Kennedy (Music) and Carl Asche (Economics) at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria.

They are investigating how participation in this type of choir impacts quality of life for persons with dementia, caregiver well-being, and how it reduces some of the stigma surrounding memory loss.

Voices in Motion Choir a

PHOTO: Gracia Seal (center) and St. Andrew’s Regional High School students Jessica Coady (left), Claire O’Neill and Mari Chambers on percussion, practice with the Voices in Motion inter-generational choir project led by UVic researchers.

Imagine a world without Alzheimer disease.