Chorus Lets Those Dealing with Dementia Make New Memories

Alzheimer's patients and caregivers are proud members of the Giving Voice Chorus

Part of the Vitality Arts Special Report

The word “fun” doesn’t often come up when people talk about those with Alzheimer’s disease or their caregivers. But there it is right smack in the middle of a short documentary about Giving Voice Chorus, comprised of a hundred or so people in Minnesota affected by this disease.

“Life can be fun,” says Marvin Lofquist about halfway through the MN Original segment, produced by TPT, the PBS affiliate in St. Paul, Minn.

Everyone there is accepted for who they are today. And it’s also as much for the person who’s the caregiver.

— Marge Ostroushko, chorus co-founder

Lofquist has early stage Alzheimer’s. He and his wife had always sung in choirs. Then his memory started to slip — along with some of the things that make life fun.

But now the joy of music is back in their lives thanks to Giving Voice Chorus, believed to be the only community choir in the nation for Alzheimer’s patients and their care partners.

“It’s like having a date again!” chirps his wife and care partner in the segment, which you can watch below. “We go on a date every Wednesday.”

A New Kind of Chorus

The chorus is the brainchild of Marge Ostroushko and Mary Lenard, who both had parents with Alzheimer’s. The two friends were talking about research around Alzheimer’s and music showing that the disease affects the music memory part of the brain last.

Their vision for the chorus was simple: “It needs to be fun. It needs to be joyful. And we need to have a concert so we have a goal.”

It also needed to be inclusive: “Everyone there is accepted for who they are today,” Ostroushko says. “And it’s also as much for the person who’s the caregiver.”

They took the idea to a Meetup and the rest, as they say, is history. Everyone loved the idea.

The women tapped Jeanie Brindley-Barnett, who started the Music for Life programs for older adults at MacPhail Center for Music, to be music director. MacPhail offered them rehearsal space.

Things fell into place relatively easily and quickly, says Ostroushko, whose background is in public media and the arts. “We were very fortunate.”

What’s Next

Since starting the first chorus is late 2014 with about 30 members, the organization has grown into two larger choruses. And she and Lenard, whose background is with the Alzheimer’s Association, are being inundated with inquiries from around the nation from people who want to start similar programs in their communities.

They are working on a toolkit, which they hope to make available in fall 2016. “Our goal is to help start other choirs,” Ostroushko says. “We want many people to start other choirs.”


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By Heidi Raschke
Heidi Raschke is a longtime journalist and editor who previously was the Executive Editor of Mpls-St. Paul Magazine and Living and Learning Editor at Next Avenue. Currently, she runs her own content strategy and development consultancy.@heidiraschke

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