More volunteers than people with Alzheimer's disease showed up for the first support group meeting at Northside Presbyterian Church earlier this month, but organizer Dawn Edens said she's not discouraged.
She's already planned future meetings and she's talking with church members about ways they can get more people with dementia and their caregivers to attend. The ministry is called Let's Sing From Memory.
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Let’s Sing From Memory support groups for Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers meet in two locations in Chattanooga. Founder Wayne Evans’ email is email@example.com. The website is http://letssingfrommemory.org.
› The original, at Christ United Methodist Church, 8645 East Brainerd Road, meets at 10 a.m. second and fourth Tuesdays of each month. Call 423-240-6887 for more information.
› The latest, at Northside Presbyterian Church, 923 Mississippi Ave., will meet 1-2:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 21, and then first and third Tuesdays starting in September. Call 423-266-1766 for more information.
'The hardest part is definitely getting the word out to the community that we're here," said Edens. "It's really meant for home-bound members and their caregivers to come and just have an hour and a half respite."
The next meeting is scheduled at the church from 1 to 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 21. Starting in September, the group expects to meet every two weeks, on first and third Tuesdays, at 1 p.m.
Edens said she wants to use music to help people with memory loss, and her entire church is helping her do it.
"People need a place for respite, and at least in the early stages of dementia, churches can provide a safe space," said the Rev. Paul Rader, pastor of Northside Presbyterian. "Singing touches something deep inside that even dementia can't quite erase."
Rader said he hopes those who attend get a time of rest for the 90 minutes or so they are there.
Even when many other functions and memories have been affected by dementia, the words and melodies of many familiar, old songs can still be recalled, said Edens.
Edens feels passionately about the new ministry. She's seen families get an Alzheimer's diagnosis for a family member. Everybody knows it's not good, she said, but no one knows quite what to expect.
She knows "they are about to go through hell."
She witnessed the battle against Alzheimer's fought by her mother-in-law, who was not able to speak and could barely get out of bed for the last eight years of her life.
She's seen people in her community who once were engaged and active take on blank stares as Alzheimer's's took over their mind and blocked their memory.
She hopes her ministry provides respite for the person with dementia and their caregiver.
At the first meeting of Let's Sing From Memory, Edens sat at a table smiling and offering name badges when guests walked in the door. Other church members talked in the hall waiting for the program to start.
Purple and green tablecloths covered two tables in the back of the room, welcoming guests with trays of cheese squares, sliced apples, crackers, apple juice and coffee. Church member Peggy Rhodes sat at the piano in the front of the room ready to play patriotic tunes and church hymns, and Keith Sanders stood in the center playing Roaring '20s music from his cellphone and displaying the words on the wall with a projector.
The room was full of church members and community volunteers ready to serve, but it lacked the people they wanted to serve, people with dementia and their caregivers.
"It's still good," said retired schoolteacher Jim Hooper.
It gives the church opportunity for a dress rehearsal before their target audience arrives, he said.
Nearly 5.5 million people in the country have Alzheimer's disease and suffer with dementia, according to Wayne Evans, who founded the first Let's Sing From Memory in the city. He believes his and Edens' are the only two such support groups in existence.
He founded the ministry about five years ago at Christ United Methodist Church in East Brainerd after a similar program he saw in England. He focuses on people with dementia who live at home with their caregivers.
While people in nursing homes have visitors and a staff that schedules times for crafts and activities, those living at home have nothing, he said.
"We're offering them a chance to get out and sing and have fellowship," said Evans.
"The thing is, the people who have Alzheimer's remember [certain memories]," he said. "It's incredible how they remember the words to old songs that they grew up with. And when they sing, you can't tell the difference between the caregiver and the the person with Alzheimer's. It's really beautiful."
His group meets at Christ United Methodist at 10 a.m. on the second and fourth Tuesday of each month. He said about 40 patients and their caregivers attend the sessions. His group started out slowly too, he said.
Edens said she followed Evans' pattern when establishing the ministry at Northside Presbyterian.
The group of about two dozen at the first meeting sang songs like "Ain't She Sweet" and "Some Enchanted Evening," a show tune from a 1949 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical.
Hooper, who introduced the songs, also invited people to tell stories about their memories of the music.
And then they played a game where Hooper read familiar sayings like "Don't let the grass grow under your " He intentionally left off the last word so the crowd could fill in "feet."
Contact Yolanda Putman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6431.