Gleeful Choir helps dementia and Alzheimer’s patients with music

Dec 25, 2022, 10:35 PM | Updated: Dec 26, 2022, 7:34 am

SALT LAKE CITY — There are many community choirs sharing Christmas cheer, but there’s one with a unique purpose.

Giving the gift of music is not only meant for those listening but for those singing in the choir as well.

The Gleeful Choir started in 2018 to help connect memories for those experiencing dementia or Alzheimer’s.

Emily Christensen, the founder of the choir, watched other groups start using music to help patients with memory loss. Their success inspired Christensen to pitch the idea of creating a local choir through Jewish Family Services.

“There are all these things we lose, but we don’t lose music,” said Christensen.

Christensen has watched the gift of music bring life to those who sing.

“When you see how intently everybody is focused on all those little details that are pretty high-level cognitive tasks — they can do it,” said Christensen.

The choir went online due to the pandemic, where they learned to move to music and use sign language to sing through zoom.

“You’re up close to everybody’s face, so lots of laughing, joking and getting to know each other,” said Christensen.

Before the pandemic, the choir performed quarterly. Christensen said they’re tentatively planning on having their first post-pandemic concert in the spring.

For the first time in a few years, this holiday season, the choir has been meeting in-person every other week.

“These groups are a lifeline, especially for the caregivers,” said Christensen.

Rebecca Raybould and Aksel Peterson care for Aksel’s brother Owen. Raybould first attended the choir with her parents in 2018, but after they died, Raybould continued to go and eventually brought her brother-in-law.

“I think people don’t want to use the word Alzheimer’s because there is no cure,” said Raybould. “If there’s no cure for the disease, it’s kind of hard to talk about it.”

So, they don’t talk. They sing.

“A dementia diagnosis isn’t the end,” Christensen said. “You can still go out. You can still learn new things. You can still make new friends and try new experiences.”

Music that brings friends together and gives the gift of memory.

“We’re living with this, we’re not dying from it, and we should have fun and enjoy,” Raybould said.

The choir meets in person every other week at Neighborhood House, and it’s free and open to all.

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Gleeful Choir helps dementia and Alzheimer’s patients with music