By Glenna Turnbull
During 2015, the Central Okanagan Foundation will distribute more than $2 million to help a variety of different not-for-profit organizations, designed to benefit our community. If you think that’s something to sing about, then by all means, please do, because singing just might be what you need to make you feel better.
Nigel Brown is the executive director of the Sing For Your Life Foundation, based in Kelowna where the foundation facilitates participatory-singing and music making sessions for older people.
A member of Brown’s family helped establish the Sing For Your Life program in the U.K. back in 2005 after a collaborative research project with the Sidney DeHaan Research Centre for Arts and Health at Canterbury Christ Church University showed positive proof of improvements to the wellbeing of seniors who participated in the specially designed singing program.
After learning of its success in the UK, Brown decided to bring it to the Okanagan to help benefit seniors here. This September will mark the start of the fifth season of the Silver Song Groups here in the Okanagan.
Walking into the Okanagan Mission Activity Centre at Sarson’s Beach, one of the three Okanagan locations that host Silver Song Group sessions, the happiness surrounds you like a giant hug. It’s infectious to the point where it’s hard not to feel good no matter what troubles you bring with you through the door. Everywhere you look, there are smiling seniors, connecting and talking, laughing and interacting as they anticipate the start of the 90 minute program.
Once the facilitator arrives, songbooks are passed around and everyone sits in a circle. The group starts with warm up exercises and breathing. Then the singing begins!
The songs are generally simple to begin with but before long they advance into singing in rounds, adding echoes, then adding hand chimes and percussion instruments. “Some of the exercises are designed to fail because, as you get older it can get harder to laugh at yourself,” noted a Sing For Your Life board member. “So in a group setting, when we all mess up together, it’s OK.”
Because singing is an aerobic activity, it increases oxygen in the blood stream and can help improve circulation and respiratory function. Psychologically, the benefits of singing with a community range from improved morale to aiding with depression. People who come for a regular period of time find they’re feeling better and they’re breathing better.
The program has also proven beneficial for those suffering dementia or early Alzheimer’s due to the use of reminiscent stimulation. “We might chat about songs, or for example if it’s a Broadway tune, try remembering where you were when you saw it, who the actor was that played the lead – things like that,” said Nigel, “we’re working on memory through games.”
Each session is designed to produce the optimal wellness outcome. “It’s not just ad hoc singing any song any how,” said Nigel, “each unique 90 minute session has a plan to it.”
Most of the participants range in age from mid 60s through to late 80s, and some bring their younger caregivers along with them. There is a break half way through allowing for tea and more socializing and by the time it ends, nobody is in a rush to go home.
At the age of 83, Bill Horton is one of the older members. He’s been attending for the past year and loves it. “It’s great,” he said, and while he enjoys the way it brings back memories for him, it’s the happiness in the room that keeps him coming back time and time again. “The happiness that is here throughout the whole crowd, that’s what I find is different from some of the other things I’ve gone to. Everyone seems to be enjoying themselves.”
The Fifth Silver Song Group Season kicks off Tuesday at the Kelowna Italian Club, 10 a.m., followed by another session at the Okanagan Mission Activity Centre on Sept. 21, 1 p.m., and one at the Heritage Retirement Residence in West Kelowna on Sept. 23, 10 a.m.
There is no cost for the program as it is completely funded through donors and grants; the charity’s next fund-raiser is a dance party on Friday, Oct. 16.
Anyone looking for more information can go online to www.sfylc.org or contact Margaret at 250-764-8808 or Joan at 778-755-0562.