by Wayne Evans
I’ve never had a family member diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, nor have I been a caregiver. I didn’t even know much about the disease until recently. But now I have a “new family” of over 20 people with Alzheimer’s, in addition to their loving caregivers.
My “new family” began in March of 2014 when, with a team of 20 volunteers, I started a ministry called “Let’s Sing From Memory.” This is a community outreach social gathering, held twice each month at Christ United Methodist Church in Chattanooga, TN. People with Alzheimer’s or other dementia, who are living at home, attend with their caregivers and other family members for fellowship and group singing of familiar old songs and hymns.
While on a work assignment in England in 2009, I watched a BBC TV documentary called “Wonderland: The Alzheimer’s Choir.” It featured an outreach program called "Singing for the Brain," sponsored by the Alzheimer’s Society in the UK. I was fascinated as couples spoke about the social support and told how singing renewed old memories and even had an effect on their communication after they returned home. The
documentary was my introduction to Alzheimer’s Disease and as it touched my heart, I knew that I wanted to find a way to help.
While searching in vain for similar programs in the USA, I learned that nearly 5.5 million people in this country have Alzheimer's Disease and about 4 million of them are living at
home with caregivers who are struggling to do their best every day. So with the successful program in the UK as our inspiration and model, and with support and training from the Alzheimer’s Association in Chattanooga, we started "Let's Sing From Memory." It’s a unique kind of support program where people with dementia and their caregivers can relax and have fun with others who share their circumstances. While their circle of friends and even family may have drifted away, here they can make new friends and enjoy this social experience together. Some participants have said that it is one of the few enjoyable things that they can do anymore as a couple. And many others have said something like: “I wish there had been a program like this when my mother was alive because she loved to sing.”
Sadly, our “new family” has lost 7 members to Alzheimer’s Disease in the past two years. But it continues to grow, as more people are diagnosed and learn about our ministry. My vision is that others will be encouraged to learn from our experience and begin their own outreach ministries. My prayer is that "Let's Sing From Memory" will become recognized as an important resource to improve the quality of life, and bring joy to thousands of people across the country.
About the Author
Wayne Evans graduated from Purdue University, served in the US Navy Civil Engineer Corps, and retired from a career in engineering and manufacturing. His passion for helping caregivers, and their loved ones with Alzheimer’s Disease, led him to start the “Let’s Sing From Memory” ministry and now he is focusing on encouraging others to do the same.
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