Musical get-togethers put rhythm in the lives of memory-loss patients

Sep 18th, 2019 | By | Category: Spotlight

Every Tuesday afternoon from 3 to 4:30, Mountain View Community Center in Edgewood throws open its doors and welcomes folks and their care partners struggling with Alzheimer’s, dementia, Parkinson’s, traumatic brain injuries, strokes and PTSD.

At a recent session, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, and friends streamed through the door two by two, ready to gather and sing, play an instrument or just listen and take an hour and a half away from their daily lives dealing with the effects of memory loss.

The non-profit program they participate in, Music Mends Minds, Restoring the Rhythm of Life, is a social group in partnership with the Puyallup Rotary Club, which helps fund the program.

Musical director Jeff Brahe leads the local group. Deb Dennison, Lutheran Community Services’ Senior Friends and Social Engagement program manager, and Randy Schneider, who started the group, greet everyone.

Schneider, a Puyallup Rotarian, cared for his wife who suffered from Alzheimer’s until she died. When he brought the idea of Music Mends Minds to Dennison, she was all in.

“Randy is an excellent partner,” said Dennison.  “He brought the model to us and he comes every week and helps set up equipment and makes sure the participants are having a good time.”

Schneider wrote a grant application to Puyallup Rotary to acquire equipment, and the group held its first practice session in October 2018.

Dennison knows firsthand how music can help folks who are dealing with significant loss. When her 29-year-old son was dying and in hospice, harp music helped him pass peacefully.

Dennison and Schneider are true believers that music can comfort and calm patients and their care partners.

“When I see people singing and having a good time and their care partners smiling and laughing, I know that we are positively affecting life in a really kind and quieter way, and when people leave, they often write and tell me that their folks with cognitive loss were happy and enjoyed the activity,” said Dennison.

Michelle Sticka cares for her husband, Don, a retired former assistant principal at Spanaway Lake High School. Don was diagnosed two years ago with Lewy body dementia, the second most common type of progressive dementia.

“For us to have a place to go and be with folks who are experiencing the same thing is important,” said Michelle.

The group meets for 10 weeks and then has two weeks off. “Those two are a long two weeks,” said Michelle.

As soon as Brahe led off with the song “Just the Two of Us” at a recent session, participants began to tap their feet, sing or play an instrument, or just sway back and forth. Everyone participated on some level.

JoAnn Miller brings her husband, Paul, an Alzheimer’s patient, every week. She said the group has changed their lives. 

Wendy Vizzini brings her husband, Chris, who used to play the guitar.

“This group saves me,” said Vizzini. “To hear the music and have conversations makes Chris happy for hours and hours.”

When Charlee Allen arrived with her 84-year-old mother, Ruby Ratterree, after the music had started, Dennison sprung from her chair, greeted them and got them settled.

Allen cares for her mother, who has dementia. “I’m learning how to speak to her differently, and the programs help educate us. It was a treasure to have discovered this program,” Allen said.

More information about Music Mends Minds is available from Dennison at ddennison@lcsnw.org. 

Joan Cronk, who wrote this story, is a freelance writer from Puyallup.

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