“Unforgettable” Chorus Group Reveals Impact of Song on People with Dementia

Encore: March 19, 2014

An NYU Langone Medical Center video introduces The Unforgettables, a unique chorus designed to study the effects of music and social interaction on people with dementia and their caregivers.

Researchers at NYU Langone Medical Center are exploring non-drug therapies for the more than 5 million Americans who currently live with Alzheimer’s disease. The participants of one such pilot study are singing its praises.

Meet The Unforgettables, a chorus made up of individuals with dementia and their caregivers.

The one-of-a-kind chorus was founded in 2011 by Dr. Mary Mittelman, a research professor at NYU Langone Medical Center and director of the Psychosocial Research and Support Program at the Comprehensive Center on Brain Aging. Mittelman came up with the idea for the chorus after she was hired to evaluate MoMA’s “Meet Me At MoMA” program for individuals with dementia and their family members. The goal of the chorus was to improve both the quality of life and the relationship between the person with dementia and the family caregiver.

“It shows that dementia is not people curled up in a nursing home,” Mittelman told anchor and reporter Jack Ford.

Chorus members, who were initially recruited through outreach to local Alzheimer’s and support organizations, rehearse for 13 weeks for each concert. While results of the pilot study are anecdotal at this stage, participants report that singing in the chorus is therapeutic. Increased social interaction helps combat the isolation faced by many who suffer from dementia.

Chorus members must learn 18 songs for each concert.  Dancing provides a fun form of physical activity, while singing and music are reported to have a positive impact on mood and memory. “I think it emphasizes the remaining strengths of the people with dementia. And it emphasizes the social interaction,” said Mittelman.

“I would love to be able to find out whether this does have a positive effect on cognitive functioning for the person with dementia,” said Mittelman, who is currently working to obtain funding to support a formal study. “I think that this is an opportunity to do a rigorous study that would show the specific benefits of this kind of activity. For the person with dementia, for the family, for the participating caregivers, for the audience, for the attitude of people towards people with dementia as well.”

Regardless of its clinical benefits, the chorus model has proven quite popular. “We’re about to start another chorus in Milwaukee based on the model that we developed,” Mittelman told Ford.

The Unforgettables will perform their 9th concert on Saturday, April 5 from 3-4 p.m. at St. Peter’s Church Sanctuary in Manhattan.

Watch the full version of NYU Langone Medical Center’s video about The Unforgettables here.

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