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A Portland choir for those with Alzheimer's and dementia binds memories and harmony

More than 67,000 Oregonians live with Alzheimer's disease and that number is expected to keep rising. That is why programs like these are so important.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Whether it’s a tune from your childhood or the song played on your wedding day, music and memories are intertwined in perfect harmony.

Sing Here Now is a choir for those living with Alzheimer’s and dementia-related diseases. It’s put on by the Oregon & Southwest Washington Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.

“There's a lot of studies that have been done on art and music and dementia,” program director Heidi Rowell said. “So, we do find people who are singing. It kind of stimulates those memories and they will start to reminisce about the first time they heard that song or what that song means to them in their lives.”

The group meets once a week in Portland to sing and socialize.

"Activities that allow them to be creative and expressive and that's really one of the ways everybody recharges themselves and reminds themselves that they're still here and alive,” Sing Here Now choir director Robert Greiff said.

Music has always been a part of Richard Dewey's life and an Alzheimer's diagnosis 10 years ago hasn't changed that.

“I sort of sing and tap my fingers always. I drive people crazy,” Dewey said.

Now, he is sharing his rhythm with the choir. He says he doesn’t always recognize the song choices right away, but once the tunes start playing on the piano, he can usually name the tune.  

“Probably the ones I know the most and recognize the fastest are the ones from [when I was] a senior in high school,” he said.

Former nurse Chris Pendleton was diagnosed about five years ago. She explained how she feels when she gets to sing with the group.

“Alive,” Pendleton said. “And not that I'm not alive other places, but I really love coming here. And we sit and talk and it's special.”

Sing Here Now is free, made possible by the Alzheimer's Association. Programs such as this will be even more important as the number of people living with Alzheimer’s and dementia is expected to rise from the current 5.8 million Americans to nearly 14 million in 30 years.

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“Everyone who has a brain is at risk for Alzheimer's disease,” Rowell said. “Obviously, it largely impacts people more later in life, but we all need to be concerned about this. And it is the most expensive disease in the country.”  

In 2019, Alzheimer’s and other dementias cost the nation $290 billion. By 2050, these costs could rise as high as $1.1 trillion, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

Not only does Sing Here Now provide an artistic outlet, it creates a community of caregivers and their loved ones living with Alzheimer’s.

“We have a ball and life should be like that,” Pendleton said.

This session of Sing Here Now will culminate in a concert at Southminster Presbyterian Church in Beaverton on March 20, from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

The next session will open sometime in the fall.

CLICK HERE for more information on the more than 20 early-stage programs offered in Oregon and Southwest Washington.

You can also contact the experts at the Alzheimer’s Association by calling their 24/7 help line for more information or for registration and screening: 800-272-3900.

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