Choirs go global

The Young At Heart choir from Almere

The Young At Heart choir from Almere

This week I attended an extraordinary international singalong in which two choirs of older people, one in Melbourne, the other in Amsterdam, sang to each other as if they were in the same room. I was in London, and I felt I was there (wherever ‘there’ was) too.

The event was made possible by video technology that has been designed for international business meetings. Sitting round a semicircular table, facing wraparound screens, we experienced the presence of the other participants as if they were on the other side of a round table.

The whole thing came about after a meeting between Kevin Johnson of Cisco and Pamela Bruder of the Emmy Monash Aged Care home in Melbourne. Pamela’s work demonstrates the role music can play in bridging generations and in enabling people with different levels of need for care to mix as equals. Cisco is nearing the end of a 6-month experiment in the town of Almere, in the Netherlands, to see whether video technology can extend the participation of older people. Using video conferencing and Flip cameras, people who wouldn’t be able to get across the city can, for example, now take an exercise class. Or indeed, join the Young At Heart Choir, which rehearses in two places at once.

Pamela Bruder, centre, with residents of Emmy Monash and helpers

Pamela Bruder, centre, with residents of Emmy Monash and helpers

The singers from Emmy Monash – one of whom lives in the high care unit, two in the dementia-specific wing, while two more are registered blind (you couldn’t tell who was which) – sang haunting Hebrew songs with some of the school students who rehearse with them. The Almere choir sang pop medleys, including The Twist because, in the words of their charismatic choirmaster, Gerard Poot,  ‘a lot of people here have new hips.’ Kevin and I also sang along, where we knew the words. He has rather a good voice. I don’t. Poot said he had been conducting for 30 years, and ‘I have never experienced anything like this. It’s really great, a once in a lifetime experience.’

The curious thing about the morning was that it was both mundane and exhilarating. At one level it was just a group of people singing together; at another, the accents kept reminding you that half of them were on the other side of the world. It did push the technology to its limits – ‘This is more people than I’ve ever seen in a TelePresence room’ Kevin acknowledged, and there may be a reason for that: the technology is set up for discussion rather than performance. But it was a powerful experience all the same, and everyone wanted to do it again.

‘One of our ladies who lives in the dementia wing, to my surprise, mentioned it the next day,’ Pamela reported afterwards. ‘She was describing it to one of our nurses, saying how beautiful it was, and how the people in Amsterdam seemed so close, she felt that she could reach out and touch them.’Young At Heart moving in rhythm


When is a radio not a radio? When it tells people how you’re feeling

BuddyIt looks like a radio. (A rather nice one.) It plays radio stations. But this is not just a radio, this is a Buddy radio – the latest idea in social networking, designed to connect people who are frail and vulnerable to those who care about them.

I heard about Buddy from the dynamic Adil Abrar of Sidekick Studios, its designers. Buddy is still at an early stage of development (four months ago, it was only a thought in Adil’s mind) so there are still issues to be resolved, but you can see its potential.

There’s already quite a lot of technology on offer to monitor people’s health and alert carers and nurses to trouble. Unfortunately, most of it suffers from various problems:

  • It’s often hideous and faintly embarrassing to have in the home
  • It’s stigmatising: it implies that you’re on the verge of collapsing, because that’s all it cares about: Are you still on your feet?
  • There’s a suspicion it’s a substitute for human contact. Sold as a way of caring for your vulnerable old person, it’s actually a way of ignoring your vulnerable old person until they actually fall down, possibly dead, and you get an alarm signal. (I’m sure telehealth isn’t used like that by everyone, but if someone suggested getting one of these devices for me, that would be my first thought; they’re doing this so they don’t have to call in any more). Continue reading

What’s the point of digital inclusion?

coloured-cablesSeventy per cent of people aged over 65 in the UK have never used the internet. In a time when personal communication, social networking and the supply of services is being revolutionized by technology, older people are being largely excluded. The Government is concerned enough about this to have introduced a panoply of initiatives to overcome digital exclusion, many of which are aimed directly at older people. But the dominant reason older people say they don’t take up or haven’t sought access to the internet is that they don’t feel they need it.

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Networked love


Vickie Cammack

Joan is a Canadian woman with a history of mental health problems. When she developed necrotising fasciitis and had to go into hospital, the people who cared about her joined an online social network so they could keep in touch with one another. That network was Tyze, which differs from more familiar sites like Facebook in that it has a specific purpose, with each network being based around a particular individual.

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