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For Those With Dementia And Their Caregivers, San Antonio Choir Is A Comfort And A Joy

Bonnie Petrie | Texas Public Radio
The director of the Grace Notes Community Choir clasps hands with two singers after their Christmas concert. One is a person living with dementia and the other is a caregiver.

A choir concert at a San Antonio senior living community brings holiday cheer to the audience, but for the singers, performing is a comfort and a joy.

Grace Notes Community Choir Director Amy Standridge introduced the group as “people living well with dementia and [their] care partners.”

The choir is made up of about a dozen people from several generations.

Some of the singers are living with dementia; others are sharing in their care. They’ve performed a few times at conferences about dementia and with other choruses, but this performance in the lobby of Morningside Senior Living Community is their first as the only group.

They started the performance with Angels We Have Heard On High. In the front row, a woman living with dementia beamed as her husband, daughter and toddler grandchild sang along.

Standridge, the director, is also a music therapist, and she said for those in the choir who are living with dementia, practicing and performing is therapeutic. They can derive several benefits from participating.

Credit Bonnie Petrie | Texas Public Radio
Three generations of one family participate in the choir, supporting and having fun with their loved one with dementia. Choir director Amy Standridge joined the fun.

"Increased communication. Improved physical functioning. Improved emotional expression,” Standridge said. “As a choir though, our goal is to make beautiful music together so that's not really therapy, but it's still therapeutic."

Standridge said it’s therapeutic for caregivers, too.

“It’s just a chance for people living with dementia and their care partners to do something together that’s fun that doesn’t involve a waiting room,” Standridge said.

Cindy Frazier is caregiver for her husband, Raymond “Bud” Frazier, and she believes strongly that this choir, and the social experiences associated with it, saved her life. Her voice choked with tears as she said this choir has made her a better caregiver, then quickly walked that statement back. 

She said caregiving remains the toughest job in the world, but added,  "It's just… It's just helped me out tremendously, just being here to socialize and sing the songs."

Research has found that areas of the brain linked to musical memory remain relatively undamaged by Alzheimer's. Music can relieve stress, reduce anxiety, depression and agitation; and even people who have trouble speaking may find they can sing. Standridge said research has also found that just 10 weeks of choir participation also can improve hearing, which may make a person with dementia feel less isolated. 

Cindy and Bud Frazier are members of the Grace Notes Community Choir. Cindy, a caregiver for her husband, says joining the group has saved her life.
Credit Bonnie Petrie | Texas Public Radio
Cindy and Bud Frazier are members of the Grace Notes Community Choir. Cindy Frazier, a caregiver for her husband, says joining the group saved her life.

Learning new music, in particular, is a good challenge for the brain. In fact, researchers are now studying whether learning new music can delay the onset or slow the progression of some dementias. Strandridge makes it a point to introduce her choir to new music, but this concert is for Christmas, with all the old standards. It’s comfort food for the brain.

After the show, Cindy Frazier's husband Bud was complimented on how good the choir's performance was. His eyes lit up, and he joked, "I'm a slight detraction from it," then laughed.

It's clear that of all the things Bud Frazier is losing and has lost, his sense of humor isn't one of them.

For more on the Grace Notes Community Choir, click here or contact choir director Amy Standridge at amy@oaksongmusictherapy.com.

Bonnie Petrie can be reached at Bonnie@TPR.org and on Twitter at @kbonniepetrie.