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Choir for dementia patients connects families, brings back memories

Music therapist Emily Christensen leads a choir of dementia patients and their family members (KSL TV)

SALT LAKE CITY — The power of music is connecting families and bringing back memories in Salt Lake City.

A new choir is made up of dementia patients and their caregivers, who are finding joy again through music.

It is led by Emily Christensen, a music therapist with Crescendo Music Therapy.

“A lot of those frustrations are gone, because the music comes back to them naturally,” she said. “They can participate in a choir, just like they always have.”

Christensen says the group doesn’t need sheet music — only lyrics, which come back to them quickly because the songs are familiar to them. This is the music of their youth.

The patients and their spouses or children meet at Kol Ami Synagogue.

Dick and Jean Raybould sing together on a recent afternoon

Dick and Jean Raybould as a young couple

The choir includes Dick and Jean Raybould. They have been married around 70 years, and music has always been a bond.

“I always loved the way she played. She was a concert pianist in her teens,” Dick Raybould remembers. “You just fall in love, and you say I want this person to be with me from now on.”

Dementia has robbed them of much, but Dick says he never leaves Jean’s side, even though there’s much he misses.

“Just being able to have an adult conversation. She goes through moods that are hard. But I love her and do my best to care for her,” he says.

Jean and Dick Raybould sing together at the choir’s first performance.

They practice with the choir every week, and during their first performance recently, while Dick held their music, while Jean often looked at him.

Christensen says lyrics and notes can open doors that were once closed. Music therapists who work with Alzheimer’s patients describe seeing people “wake up” when the sounds of loved and familiar music fill their heads. She says for Alzheimer’s patients, music can be very much like medicine.

Jean finds it difficult to express herself in conversation, but she can play the piano while her daughter Rebecca sings. Experts say these kinds of music programs can help keep Alzheimer’s patients at home with their loved ones longer, recreating an intimacy that would otherwise be lost.

“We are very glad Emily (Christensen) started this,” said Rebecca, as she sat next to her mother Jean. “She’s still in there. She said not too long ago, ‘I wasn’t always like this.”

“The main thing you learn is acceptance,” said Dick, before singing their next number, which included the lyrics, “I’ll do anything for you. All I want is loving you, and music, music music.”