That sense of inclusiveness is key, Mittelman agreed. Too often, she said, the typical caregiver is "afraid to go to a normal event with a person with dementia. And so he ends up being discounted, or discounts himself, as people exclude him from social events and he has less and less activities to participate in and becomes more and more isolated."
That means that a group such as The Unforgettables becomes "very important," said Smith, a painter and CUNY professor who commutes from the Hudson River Valley to join rehearsals with his wife each week. "Here you get a group like this together and it's not threatening."
Could the choir experience have therapeutic value, too? Mittelman says that's not been proven, but she hopes music may be an "unexplored opportunity" for improving cognitive function.
"Who's to say that singing in this chorus isn't having a really positive effective on mental function?" she asked, pointing to prior research that's indicated that exposure to music may elicit profound motor responses in every region of a patient's brain, stimulating the release of neurotransmitters and endorphins while triggering musical and emotional memory.
Delving further, Mittelman said she's now incorporated The Unforgettables into, "a research project with structured assessments before, in the middle and after the concert, as well as focus groups, to assess the benefits of participating."
One outside expert believes it may be worth studying. This kind of choral project, "may very well have a profound impact on the quality of life of both patient and family," said Dr. Robert Friedland, chair of neurology at the University of Louisville School of Medicine, in Kentucky.
"I actually believe it
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