‘Music is the last to go’

Foundation helps those with memory loss and their loved ones with art and music

Isabel (No Last Names) takes a moment to play a melody as she tries to remember the name of a song during a coffee break at an arts and music program for Alzheimer's sufferers at the Oak Bay United Church. The program is put on by the We Rage We Weep Alzheimer Foundation.

Musician Louise Rose is in mid-sentence when a petite, older woman comes up to her. “Do you know this song? Dah, dah, de, dah, dum, dah, dah, de, dah, dum,” she trills. Rose shifts her gaze to the woman, her mouth hangs slightly open as she listens.

“Dah, dah, de, dah, dum, dah, dah, de, dah, dum,” the woman continues, her delicate hands fluttering as she sings. Rose repeats the phrase: “Dah, dah, de, dah, dum, dah, dah, de, dah, dum … you’ve stumped me,” she says after a moment.

“Dah, dah, de, dah, dum,” the woman continues. “You don’t know it?”

“Keep working at it,” Rose says. “We’ll figure it out.” The woman walks away, the tune still tripping off her tongue, her hands dancing in the air.

Rose’s gaze follows Isabel as she goes. She refocuses, then says: “It’s in there.” She’s talking about the memory of music.

Suddenly, sound fills the room. “Dah, dah, de, dah, dum, dah, dah, de, dah, dum.” Isabel’s dancing hands are deftly picking out the tune on the piano.

Rose’s mouth forms a thin line, her hands clench, tears prick at her eyes. “Music is the last to go,” she says after a moment.

Isabel (her last name was withheld to protect her privacy) is one of eight participants in the We Rage We Weep Alzheimer Foundation’s Arts and Alzheimer’s program. The program began last spring as a pilot project and, now successful, hopes to add other venues to its Oak Bay United Church home base.

“I found research that says 25 per cent of caregivers are spouses, family members and adult children,” says Marjorie Moulton, founder of We Rage We Weep Alzheimer Foundation.

“They need help with services and support and have difficulty accessing it because they don’t have the funds.”

Moulton’s father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s about 10 years before his death. “I watched my mother going through it,” she says.

She started the foundation five and a half years ago, beginning with Project Lifesaver of Greater Victoria, a bracelet that uses radio frequency technology to track patients with dementia who wander away from home.

The majority of the foundation’s funding comes through individuals and families. It also gets some corporate donations.

“Last April it seemed the right time, and we were in a position financially, to start another program. … There are other groups around the world that do this and get good results. It fits our mandate of supporting individuals (with dementia) and their caregivers,” Moulton says. “Participants come and enjoy the art and music, and being engaged, and the caregivers can go and run errands, or meet a friend for coffee maybe, or just have a break.”

The room is now filled with the sound of Rose on the piano and the voices of the group participating in a sing-along. The singing comes after a snack of yogurt and fruit which follows an hour of art facilitated by Esther White, co-ordinator of the painters group with the Juan de Fuca Arts and Crafts Guild.

“I was with the school district for 25 years,” she says. “I worked in special education and with autistic children. There are a lot of similar problems: remembering things, following directions – it all ties in.”

She tries to make the sessions engaging, following the lead of the participants. Art projects include everything from making collages and painting Easter eggs to flower arranging and cookie decorating. “There were five guys over there,” White says, pointing to a now empty table. “As fast as they were decorating them, they were eating them.”

The free, two-hour, once-a-week program, which runs 10 weeks, costs about $5,000 to operate, says Moulton. Expenses include the venue, honorariums for the artists and musicians, refreshments, music and art supplies.

“It’s still a small program because it’s a pilot project,” says Moulton. “Currently it’s only available in Oak Bay. With a few more generous donations we hope to spread to a few more locations in the city,” she says.

As the music hour winds down, Rose picks one last song for the happy chorus to sing. Till We Meet Again rings out and Isabel, wearing a bright red sweater that contrasts sharply with her snow white hair, sings in a clear, sweet voice, her frail hands dancing to the tune.

editor@oakbaynews.com

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