‘It's Just Joy': Singing in Choral Group Helps People With Dementia

A group in Northern Virginia uses music to help people with dementia hold onto some of their best memories.

For people with Alzheimer's disease, music can provide a powerful connection to loved ones as memories begin to fade.

Melinda Erdberg has loved to sing for as long as she can remember.

“It’s just joy; it makes me feel happy,” she said.

Her memory isn’t very good anymore, and the same can be said for most of the vocalists in the Sentimental Journey Singers, a chorus for adults 55 and older who suffer from early to moderate dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Science has shown music can have a variety of positive effects for people dealing with memory loss.

The group’s weekly rehearsal doubles as therapy.

“Music is housed in a different section of the brain than the part that is typically affected by dementia,” said Rachel Thompson, the group’s accompanist and a certified music therapist.

“A person who has dementia who might not be able to recall all the words that they want at any given moment, if those words are tied to music, there’s a greater likelihood that they can access those words,” she said.

Jeanne Kelly, founder of Encore Creativity for Adults, which runs the choir, started the group after noticing older members of choirs struggling to remember lyrics. She also knows first-hand the impact music can have.

“My mother was a pianist, and she had advanced Alzheimer’s,” she said. “She could sit down and play.”

The group is preparing for its Christmas concert featuring songs familiar to participants and their care partners.

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