Chorus: People with Dementia and their Caregivers Join in Harmony

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About the Chorus

Dr. Mary Mittelman, director of the Psychosocial Research and Support Program at the Center for Cognitive Neurology, believes that research may prove that music and social interaction can be of significant benefit to people suffering from dementia and their family members. With that in mind, she and her fellow colleagues have created a unique chorus named The Unforgettables, the first of its kind for people with dementia and their family members and friends.

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“The pleasure this process has given participants was clear from the start," said Dr. Mittelman, who has been conducting research at the NYU School of Medicine on how to help family caregivers of people with dementia for more than 25 years. "The chorus has proven to be a wonderful place to be, where no one feels stigmatized."

People with dementia and caregivers were initially recruited through outreach that involved a number of local organizations, including the New York City chapter of the Alzheimer's Association and NYU support groups. Chorus members meet once a week to practice and are led by two conductor-directors, Tania Papayannopoulou and Dale Lamb. They're taught standard techniques to enhance breathing, vocalization and performance, just like any other choir. The chorus rehearses for 13 weeks for a concert that features nearly 20 songs, and to date the chorus has performed more than a dozen concerts together. The program includes songs from the American songbook, as well as other selections, and participants with Dementia sing solos at each performance.

The Unforgettables have been featured on ABC News, NPR-WNYCHuffington Post, PBS, the New York Daily News, and National Herald (in Greek), among others.

The goal of NYU’s Psychosocial Research and Support program is to see to what extent non-drug therapies can help people with dementia and their families. We know there is no cure for Alzheimer’s or dementia yet, but there is the potential to improve quality of life and the relationship between the person with dementia and the family caregiver,” both of which she is actively studying through the choral group.

This is a pilot study. The choral program was designed to ensure a high quality and rewarding experience for the singers as well as provide a structure that maximizes the synergy and skills of the leaders. The goal is also to enrich and educate the wider community through the concerts and be a model for replication in other communities. There are many aspects to this proving to be therapeutic. It involves both the person with dementia and the caregiver together in physical activity; and singing in a group, which is beneficial for mood and social support. Music has also shown to alleviate symptoms of depression.

Dr. Mittelman is presently seeking funding to conduct further research about the benefits of participating in a chorus on people with dementia and their family members. A qualitative and quantitative evaluation of the outcomes with a larger number of participants is essential to develop a stronger evidence base for its effectiveness.

The working group, dedicated to the investigation of music as a therapeutic activity for people with dementia and their family members includes: Mary Mittelman, Dr. PH, NYU Langone Medical Center; Cynthia Epstein Smith, LCSW, NYU Langone Medical Center; Jan Maier, RN, MPH, Research Triangle Institute; Concetta Tomaino, DA, Institute for Music and Neurologic Function; Kendra Ray, MA, Metropolitan Jewish Health Care; Tania Papayannopoulou, Ed.M, MA, Unforgettables Chorus Conductor & Director; and Dale Lamb, BME, Unforgettables Chorus Conductor & Director. 

Your Involvement Matters

Please commit to the fight against Alzheimer's disease and other dementias by participating in research or making a gift to support research and outreach through the Silberstein Alzheimer's Institute of the Center for Cognitive Neurology.