Choir making memories for those with memory loss

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) -- For those battling dementia and Alzheimer’s short term memory is often the first to go. But older memories, sometimes favorite songs, can linger longer. And Family Caregivers of Mercy recruited a choir made up of those with chronic memory conditions, caregivers and families to make some new memories.

Steve Nurre leads the Together in Song chorus at Mercy Medical Center. The group is composed of singers with dementia or Alzheimer's and others. Research has shown that familiar songs can trigger memories in those battling those chronic conditions.

It’s called Together in Song.

For several months now, volunteers have worked with the chorus composed of about 25 people, many with memory loss issues, to learn how to sing together.

Steve Nurre, the conductor of the group, says he chose certain types of songs for a reason.

“As I select the music I’m looking for music that somehow connects with people in the choice. Whether it’s an old folk song or a popular tune that they know. For some, it helps them access that part of their memory,” he said.

Nurre and his wife Mary, the musical accompanist for the group, traveled to the Twin Cities to see how a choir for those with dementia and Alzheimer’s works.

They came back convinced the research is right—it has a positive effect.

Kathy Good, director of the Family Caregivers of Mercy, said “for people living with dementia, the music center in your brain is deep in your brain so it is the least impacted by the plaques and tangles caused by dementia for a very long time. So clearly that helps.”

Vincent Mills is in the early stages of a diagnosis of dementia.

His wife Rachel, his caregiver, says he often forgets what she told him yesterday. But he recognizes the lyrics of songs and now knows the names of those singing next to him.

“I thought it was a splendid idea. Music is always a good thing to get people together,” Vincent Mills said.

Many caregivers and other volunteers have joined the Together in Song chorus as well because it’s something they can do together.

And the idea isn’t just to spark old memories.

It’s to make new ones that improve the quality of life.

And members of this choir, unique in eastern Iowa, want to share their efforts.

They’re putting on a concert for the public.

It will take place Monday, November 19th at 1:00 p.m. at the Hallagan Education Center at Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids.