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Chorus Gives Voice to Those With Alzheimer's
Date:12/22/2011

By Alan Mozes
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Dec. 22 (HealthDay News) -- Late December wouldn't be the same without the uplifting sound of holiday choirs, but there's a unique chorus in New York City, called "The Unforgettables," that's bringing new harmony to singers and audiences alike.

That's because the chorus' 22 members include 11 men and women diagnosed with early to middle-stage dementia, including dementia linked to Alzheimer's disease, paired up with 11 of their caregivers -- a spouse, child or friend.

Each practice and recital is an act of togetherness and renewed strength in the face of illness, one of the chorus' founders said.

"The pleasure this process has given participants was clear from the start," said researcher Mary S. Mittelman, who spearheaded the choir's inauguration back in June, along with colleagues from the NYU Langone Medical Center's Center of Excellence on Brain Aging. "The chorus has proven to be a wonderful place to be, where no one feels stigmatized."

Organizers say this is the first choir of its kind in the United States. Patients and caretakers were initially recruited through outreach that involved a number of local organizations, including the New York City chapter of the Alzheimer's Association and Langone. The chorus currently includes people diagnosed with either Alzheimer's disease or another form of dementia called Lewy body disease.

Chorus members meet once a week to practice and are joined by musicians who serve as conductor-directors. They're taught standard techniques to enhance breathing, vocalization and performance, just like any other choir, Mittelman said.

To date, two public performances have been staged: The first, in September, featured 18 songs ranging from classical to folk to pop; the second, which took place just last week, was filled with holiday favorites.

"There's a certain camaraderie," noted Howard Smith, a choral member who c
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