Choir for People with Dementia Aims to Make Music and Memories

URBANDALE, Iowa  --  You don't have to have a perfect pitch to join one metro choir. The members of the group might not always be in harmony, but they are finding the right notes together.

The musicians meet every month. Singing is what brings them together, but it’s not necessarily what they have in common. Sara Lemke said, "It's a dementia-inclusive choir in the Des Moines area, really for those living with dementia and their caregivers.”

Lemke started the choir with her sister Janelle Ketcher, who added, "We're all connecting through the power of music, which sounds cheesy, but it really is a powerful thing."

The sisters formed the choir in honor of their mom. Lemke said, "She loved music before. She went to concerts, festivals, was that person snapping in the car, driving with her knee up."

Their mom was diagnosed with early on-set Alzheimer’s in her early 50s. Ketcher said, "She's non-communicative now, but she does still respond to music. We will play music on our phone. We'll walk down the hall and sing and dance. It's our remaining way to connect with her."

Even though their mom can’t come to the choir, the sisters want to bring people with Alzheimer's and their caregivers together through music. Alice Cooper said, "Your whole world just falls apart when you get the diagnosis."

Her husband Bob Cooper was diagnosed with Alzheimer's a couple years ago. The disease is progressing slowly, but his wife thought they could create new memories here. She said, "I've been told, and I am finding out that the sense of music and rhythm is the last to go."

The sisters formed the group about three months ago. They really want to grow it, especially before the Alzheimer's Association’s Walk to End Alzheimer's in September. Lemke said, "We would really like to sing just one song at the beginning of that, kind of show we have this group. It's a fun community program, and have people join."

The goal is to remember the past, while finding joy in the present. "Dementia is a disease that's very scary. It's hard to deal with, and it's very emotional. I really want to bring happiness to this disease and have something people can look forward to and enjoy with their loved one, and create new meaningful memories,” said Lemke.

The group gets together the fourth Thursday of every month. It starts at 10:30 at Gloria Dei church in Urbandale. The Alzheimer's Association Walk to End Alzheimer's will take place on September 16th.