Shared music cues up memory

Songs made "the lights go on" for Alzheimer's patients serenaded by the Minnesota Chorale, which stages a free show Sunday.

Debbie Richman doesn't need to hear vocal approval to know that the Alzheimer's patients to whom she sings "Edelweiss" and "You Are My Sunshine" are enjoying themselves.

"I always look at the feet first," said Richman, who works in education and outreach for the Alzheimer's Association of Minnesota. "We have a list of golden oldies that get feet and fingers tapping. They hum along sometimes."

Richman also sings mezzo-soprano with the Minnesota Chorale, which throughout October sent groups of its singers to memory-care units around the Twin Cities to perform for and interact with patients as part of its Bridges program, in partnership with Allina hospitals. The chorale is giving a free concert Sunday afternoon featuring selections relevant to the topic -- and offering comfort to caregivers.

Working with Alzheimer's patients "was like watching the lights go on," said the chorale's executive director, Bob Peskin. "Someone who was in a shell, unresponsive, seemed suddenly aware of their surroundings."

"Music is a language unto itself," Richman said. "Regardless of how advanced the disease is, you can trigger a response if you pick songs associated with someone's past. When you sing 'Let Me Call You Sweetheart' a spouse will spontaneously hold the patient's hand, and that is enough. It's a shared experience. With music there are no rules. You just have to be present."

Kristin Tillotson • 612-673-7046

  • BRIDGES: A GIFT OF SONG

    Who: Minnesota Chorale.

    When: 4 p.m. Sun.

    Where: Bethlehem Lutheran Church, 4100 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls.

    Admission: Free.

    Alzheimer's hot line: 1-800-272-3900, 24 hours a day, toll-free.

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