'Singing for the brain': reflections on the human capacity for music arising from a pilot study of group singing with Alzheimer's patients

J R Soc Promot Health. 2008 Mar;128(2):73-8. doi: 10.1177/1466424007087807.


The paper reports the activities of a pilot study of group singing for people with Alzheimer's and their carers, and presents data arising from the study.

Aims: The project aimed to answer the following questions: Would people with Alzheimer's be able to participate in group singing? Would progress be identifiable in participants' singing? Would responses to the activity be positive? Would participating carers find the activity worthwhile? Additionally, the following question was posed: Within the supportive environment of group singing, might people with Alzheimer's be able to participate in a song that they had to learn?

Methods: Songs were selected that would be familiar to participants aged over 40 years, and one original song was introduced by the group leader following a successful session. The group leader did not know which of the participants were patients with Alzheimer's and which were carers. Participants sat in a circle in a resonant hall. Sessions were filmed and a separate audio recording made and subsequently analysed, and questionnaires were completed by carers after sessions.

Results: Nine hours of video recording, three hours of audio recording and three collated questionnaires (one for each session) were collected. Confidence grew over the three sessions, with a traceable development in the alertness of many of the people with Alzheimer's. It proved possible to divide the group so as to sing two songs simultaneously, and also so as to perform three- and four-part rounds. It proved possible to teach an unknown song. Carers generally felt that the sessions were of value.

Conclusions: People with Alzheimer's are able to participate in group singing and some longer-term benefits are perceived by their carers. In a group activity such as Singing for the Brain it is difficult to be certain how the overall effect arises from the interaction of individuals. The data assembled is difficult to submit to clinical testing, relying as it does on the judgement of participants regarding reported recall of the content of sessions on the part of people with Alzheimer's. Further research questions are raised by the success of this project.

MeSH terms

  • Alzheimer Disease / therapy*
  • Caregivers
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Music*
  • Pilot Projects
  • Program Evaluation