Harmony care center using music to help uncover memories - KTTC Rochester, Austin, Mason City News, Weather and Sports

Harmony care center using music to help uncover memories


Memories, emotions and the ability to do simple tasks -- all can be lost because of dementia. But a local care center is helping bring what's lost -- back, one note at a time.

Every Saturday for the past two months, residents of the Gundersen Care Center in Harmony have been singing in a choir. 

They're rehearsing for an upcoming concert. But more importantly, they're doing it for their health.

It was absolutely striking to see how singing just a simple tune from their childhood can really unlock a lot of the memories that had been buried more deeply," said Dr. Randi Berg, who organized the choir.

Studies have shown that music can bring out emotions that will, in turn, bring out the past.

"I've loved to sing since I was a little child. My mother said I sang all the time," recalled care center resident Darliene Ask.

"I used to sing in school," resident Leona Smith added.

Dr. Berg was inspired to create the "Memory Choir" after watching a documentary called "Alive Inside," then having a memorable encounter with a resident at the care center.

"When I would talk to her, the responses would turn to be very minimal. She was very slow to answer questions," Dr. Berg recalled. "During one of our encounters. I thought -- why not just spend some time singing a song together. So we started singing Amazing Grace. And I could see her lips start to move as she joined along with that song."

"Shortly after it finished, I had asked her about the quilt on her bed," Dr. Berg continued. "And she said, 'That quilt was made by my grandmother, and she gave it to me when I went off to college.' And I said, 'What did you study there?' And she said, 'I studied economics.' And this was more that I got from her than in the last several counters combined. There was something about singing that song, "Amazing Grace." It was like a key in a lock that turned and other memories started to bubble to the surface."

After that encounter, Dr. Berg reached out to music education students at Luther College, who come to the care center every Saturday to lead the rehearsals.

But the choir is more than just about helping to remember the past. It's about making the most of the present.

"One of the most memorable results of the choir has just been the elevation in mood, the sense of doing something together as a group, forming new memories as we uncover those old ones," said Dr. Berg.

"It's nice. I like the camaraderie of singing with the other people," Ask said.

The choir's concert will be Saturday, Dec.12 at the Gundersen Harmony Care Center. They will be performing with the Luther Vocal Jazz Ensemble.

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