Two women, who have not seen each other for two months, arrive at a picnic. They clasp hands and smiling joyfully, each declares to the other, “I’ve missed you!” Then one woman exclaims “I had a dream about you.”  The other’s eyes open widely and she answers, “Well I had a dream about you too!”  I recently witnessed this exchange at a casual gathering designed to celebrate new friendships.  The women, both of whom have dementia, first met during the spring while participating in a new choir in our area. Sing for the Moment is a choir which provides an opportunity for caregivers and their loved ones with dementia to participate in a shared activity and develop connections with others who understand the joys and challenges of living with memory loss.

For people who are experiencing dementia, participation in group activities can be challenging due to changes in their ability to focus on and process information from their environment. Yet activities provide socialization and promote a sense of purpose, both of which contribute to quality of life.  Research has demonstrated that music is an activity which has many benefits for people with dementia.  In addition to providing entertainment; music can supply stimulation which aids in promoting memory recall, creating a positive mood, managing physical discomfort, and encouraging increased physical activity.  Music engages many areas of the brain and remains meaningful to people even during advanced stages of dementia.

Earlier this year, a local resident named Gary received an email containing a link to a You Tube video of a choir in Minnesota which was comprised of people with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia, their caregivers, and numerous volunteers. Recalling the difficulties he witnessed for folks with dementia and their families while he worked for a home health agency and, desiring to offer the advantages of a similar music program to our community, he reached out to some acquaintances and the Alzheimer’s Association.  An organizing committee was born.

The fall 2017 Sing for the Moment choir session begins on September 20th.  Rehearsals will be held weekly on Wednesday mornings and culminate with a free public concert on Sunday, November 12th at Bethany Village in Mechanicsburg.  The fall choir will be the second event for this growing program.  The inaugural choir met this past spring with great success.  Olivia Maturano, Constituent Services Coordinator for the Alzheimer’s Association, reported, “The Sing for the Moment Choir’s first session was filled with beautiful and heartwarming moments, which consisted of infectious smiles, contagious laughter and a true joy in singing along to a tune. Our conductor, Dr. Rachel Cornacchio, and pianist, Justin Myers, did a wonderful job of keeping the rehearsals light, fun and easy going.”

Dr. Cornacchio’s assessment was, “We had a ball.” She had chosen music from a list of billboard hits from the decade when the choir’s older participants would have been in their late teens and early twenties.  “You’re a Grand Old Flag” was one of the group’s favorites, and when the name of the song was mentioned during the picnic, one of the women with memory loss immediately began singing.  It didn’t take long for the entire group to join in a hearty acapella rendition of the tune.  “Uncle” Justin, (who happens to be the youngest person in the group), shared his opinion that the best part of the program was to see the participants’ reactions while they were singing.  It didn’t matter what type of mood everyone was in when they first arrived at rehearsals.  Singing would transport them to “a totally different place.” Several of the volunteers agreed with his statement.  “You would feel so much better about the world, people, and yourself after rehearsal.”

“Our hope is that this program will put a smile on the faces of the participants and help the caregivers by providing a social outlet at least one day each week,” states Gary. The program appears to be accomplishing these goals. Near the end of the first choir session, the teary-eyed caregiving daughter of one participant shared with the group how the choir had changed their lives and allowed them to get out of the house for a fun activity. Another participant was observed not to interact very much during the rehearsals, but the impact of the program was evident on the day of concert when she sang every word.

This program is funded by a grant and a nominal $10 participant fee. No singing experience is required for participation in the Sing for the Moment choir. All of the original participants are returning for the second session, and they are excited to welcome new members! If you are unsure about joining, come and observe a rehearsal. For additional information, please contact Olivia Maturano at omaturano@alz.org or 717-651-5020 ext. 2123.

Karen Kaslow, RN