Just as the clock strikes 3 p.m., Pastor Greg Asimakoupoulos begins singing “America the Beautiful.” Before even looking at their song books, the large group of seniors instantly sing along to each word as if the lyrics are burned into their memories.
Music Mends Minds (MMM), an acapella sing-a-long program, takes place every month in the Fellowship Hall at Covenant Living at the Shores. The most recent event was July 17.
MMM is a nonprofit organization that uses music to support patients with Alzheimer’s, dementia, Parkinson’s, traumatic brain injury, stroke and PTSD.
Pastor Asimakoupoulos and Rotarian Karen Dunning guided the group through 15 songs from 3-3:30 p.m. before heading upstairs to the Reflections Dining Room to continue singing with the members in the memory wing.
“About 18 months ago I learned of the Music Mends Minds program throughout Rotary club,” Asimakoupoulos said. “Since my mom has had dementia for the last 12 years, I was interested from the get go.”
Asimakoupoulos would make up his own lines to songs, yet each participant still continued to follow his lead. The pastor occasionally added fun facts to each song in an attempt to highlight historical events or people.
“I have witnessed firsthand how singing songs has kept me engaged with my 92-year-old mother. It is truly amazing how lyrics to songs (learned 80 years ago) are retained when a person cannot remember what they had to eat 15 minutes ago,” he said.
The sing-a-long conveyed a sense of excitement within the crowd as numerous people expressed joy after simply hearing the title of an upcoming song.
“Oh, boy,” shouted one person from the crowd before singing “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” halfway through the program.
Each song only lasted 6-10 lines, but the participants still clapped along and tapped on their chairs to create rhythm. Many members of the group even mentioned playing instruments when they were younger, such as piano and banjo.
People came alive as the program progressed. At one point, everyone started making fun of the Mariner’s losing streak before singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”
MMM was founded by Carol and Irwin Rosenstein in Los Angeles after their own success story with music and social support. Irwin’s diagnosis with Parkinson’s disease and then early dementia was made easier from playing piano and mentoring students.
The organization is continuing to research the efforts of music therapy as a viable alternative treatment in delaying the symptoms of neurodegenerative dementia. According to their website (https://www.musicmendsminds.org/), music seems to be retained in the brain differently from other sorts of cognition.
Aegis of Mercer Island is a new assisted living community that also focuses on memory care. The facility intends to start a similar sing-a-long program on the second Tuesday of the month, beginning on Aug. 13. Aegis and Covenant Living both use songbooks with lyrics from 300 “golden oldies.”