Members of the Harmonaires chorus rehearse on Sept. 13 at Brunswick United Methodist Church for a performance this weekend. The group is made up of people suffering from illnesses that affect their memory, as well as caregivers. (Kelli Park photo) Kelli Park photo

BRUNSWICK — Members of Brunswick Area Respite Care experience the long-term effects of memory loss as a result of Alzheimers and dementia, but they’re not letting that slow them down when it comes to making music. 

The Harmonaires chorale group made up of people with illnesses that affect memory, their caregivers, volunteers and staff, will celebrate the 30th anniversary of Brunswick Area Respite Care with their upcoming concert, “Songs of Our Lives,” at 4 p.m. Sunday at the Brunswick United Methodist Church. 

The group started in 2013 under Jane Hardy, co-owner of Singing for Memories, a company that provides choral instruction for people with memory problems. 

“They can’t share a lot because they can’t remember,” Hard said, “but they can share their love of singing.” 

Brunswick Area Respite Care is a United Way nonprofit agency specializing in programs for aging and memory. Their primary service is The Club, which is an adult day program providing structured activities for members, the majority of whom are living with memory issues. The organization also provides services for caregivers, including support groups, counseling and education. 

Hardy, who previously worked as a K-12 music teacher, was inspired to launch the chorale while on a drive with her husband, who suffered from severe memory issues and was living in an Arizona assisted living facility. 

“We were riding in the car and he was looking at the mountains, and, all of a sudden, he just started singing ‘Blue Skies.’ He sang the whole song with no words in front of him. He couldn’t remember who I was, but he could remember the words to that song.” 

She started doing sing-alongs with her husband, a member of Brunswick Area Respite Care, in 2006, and, from there, developed an interest in facilitating the therapeutic value of music among individuals with memory issues. 

After reading “Musicophilia” by neurologist Oliver Sacks, which explores case studies and the relationship between music and the brain, Hardy started studying more about the subject. Studies have found that music activates several parts of the brain to analyze auditory information (volume, speed, melody, rhythm); recall memories to remember music lyrics and keep the songs in working memory; recall images that are associated with the sounds; control body movements to process cues; create rhythmic movement in the body in response to music; and experience a positive emotional reaction. All that activity can help trigger memories and improve brain function, according to research. 

Hardy and business partner Susan Spalding are doing more than just singing songs in their work with Singing for Memories, however. They provide chorale instruction services at several residential facilities in the Midcoast. They calculate an average age within the group and select songs that played on the radio when the participants were 1720 years old. 

“We call them songs of our lives. It evokes memories for these people of a time they can remember,” said Hardy. “We focus on songs that have been part of their lives for the last 50 years. They connect with the music by coming up with memories. They don’t have to work hard at all to do that.” 

In addition to losing their short-term memory, individuals with Alzheimers and dementia can lose the ability to perform basic tasks, including reading and speaking. Herk has witnessed the ways in which music transcends these cognitive barriers. 

“Boy, do they remember the words to those old songs, and it makes them feel good!” said Herk. “I have seen plenty of people who can no longer talk in the later stages of Alzheimers, but when they hear an old song, they can sing it word for word. It’s fascinating.” 

For more information, call (207) 729-8571 or visit respite-care.org. 

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