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Power of Music: Lyrics, notes open doors for dementia patients in special choir

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Music inspires and connects us in ways nothing else can. Lyrics and notes can open doors that were once closed. A Salt Lake family experienced the power of music.

Being a concert pianist requires practice, and skill. Jean Raybould accompanied choirs, and won a national piano playing award. It’s how she met Dick Raybould, her husband.

“I fell in love with her through music,” he said.

At the Hotel Utah, “Jean came walking down the stairs in her long dress, she was beautiful. I fell in love. She was gorgeous,” he said. “That was more than 70 years ago.”

Dick and Jean Raybould, center, sing at their first performance with a special choir for dementia patients and their caregivers. Jean can’t remember her children’s names but the lyrics to songs come back to her easily.

The Rayboulds joined a choir. They practice every week, and invited Rebecca.

“I’m basically a really good friend, right?” she said. “Most of the time,” Jean Raybould said.

It’s Rebecca’s first time singing with a group.

“We’re certainly not the Mormon Tabernacle Choir,” she said.

The choir members all have something in common. They are dementia patients and their caregivers.

“I have to help her dress, help her in every respect, yes,” Dick said. “We have to keep reminding her, ‘This is David, your son, he lives in California. He calls almost every day.’”

Expressing herself in conversation is nearly impossible. When asked if she likes to sing, she answered, “The other people have something in their head.”

But something happens with music.

Music therapist Emily Christensen, left, directs practice for a choir made up of dementia patients and their caregivers. Music is stored in a different area of the brain than language and remains intact longer.

Emily Christensen is a music therapist with Crescendo Music Therapy.

“We lose conversation, we lose memories,” she said. “We can’t just say, ‘How was your day today?’ There’s all these things we lose, but we don’t lose music.”

Music is stored in a different area of the brain, and remains intact longer.

“It’s still accessible to people,” Christensen said.

They use lyric sheets instead of music to keep things easy to follow, and sing songs that were popular in their younger years.

“Music, Music, Music, I Walk the Line, Blue Moon,” Christensen said.

Thursday, April 5, was their first concert. As the Rayboulds prepared to leave from their Salt Lake City home, it was both exciting and nerve-wracking for Dick. He never knows what Jean will be able to do, and getting out the door can be a struggle. At the Utah Museum of Fine Art, they sang two songs to the enthusiastic applause of the audience.

“The joy of singing ties us together still,” Dick said.

The choir is a break from the day-today struggle.

“I’m on the 24-hour watch of, ‘Does she walk away or not?’ When we’re sitting here in the choir, at least I have an hour of peace,” he said.

Dick can’t put into words what Jean means to him. “No,” he said. But he can sing it. “Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m 94?” he sang.

And when their song played, something extraordinary happened. Jean began tapping her feet to the beat, then she stood and danced. As she sang every word, Dick joined her and they danced and sang together.

“In a way, she’s my life,” he said.

Though Jean doesn’t remember, Rebecca isn’t just a friend. Rebecca is Jean’s daughter.

“She’s still in there,” Rebecca Raybould said. “She actually said not too long ago, ‘I wasn’t always like this.’”

There are 5.7 million Americans, of all ages, living with Alzheimer’s dementia. There is no cure.

For more information go to the Gleeful Choir website

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