Jane deSnaijer is one of the volunteers who were inspired by Danah Krieger’s (seated) new music program designed to give those suffering from dementia the chance to once again sing in a group setting with their peers. Ms. Krieger, who is the music director at Trinity-St. Andrew’s United Church in Renfrew, credits the Dementia Society of Renfrew County and volunteers like Ms. DeSnaijer for making the monthly choir a success.

Renfrew – Danah-Lee Krieger is an accomplished musician who has the remarkable ability to combine her skills as a talented music teacher and a seasoned performing artist who can easily adapt any music plan and make it accessible to anyone with just a little bit of encouragement.

Whether it is working with children as young as six who are enrolled in More Than A Song Studio, a music school that caters to children of all ages, or leading the church choir as Musical Director at Trinity-St. Andrew’s United Church in Renfrew, Ms. Krieger takes great joy when she introduces a wide array of musical concepts to others.

As a trained musical educator, she encourages her young students to perform in public settings and she sometimes hosts coffee houses where her students perform in a relaxed setting in front of an encouraging audience.

“I was running a coffee house a while back and while packing up at the end I was approached by a woman who told me she was an active singer and was recently diagnosed with Dementia and that she wanted to get back to singing in a group setting again,” Ms. Krieger told the Leader. “She was in the early stages but already she was forgetting the lyrics and she asked if there was some way I could help her sing again with confidence as there are likely others out there in the same situation.”

She approached her church council and they were excited about creating an environment where adults and seniors can come together to sing.

“Ironically, staff, volunteers and caregivers associated with the Dementia Society of Ottawa and Renfrew County meet here at our church for a coffee/support group the first Thursday of the month,” she said. “We agreed that since they are here anyway with their loved ones, it was very easy to move from the coffee club atmosphere to the next room where they sing and share music and song to help them cope with dementia.”

Music To Memories

It didn’t take long for her to get the ball rolling as she crafted a media release with a poster title of “Music to Memories: Ottawa Valley Dementia Choir”, and she was amazed at how quickly the registration numbers tallied up. She knew the new approach hit a chord in the community.

“When the coffee group ends at 11 a.m., the caregivers and volunteers go off on their own and those with dementia gather and they share their love of music and it is amazing to watch. We sing simple songs like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and where they may have forgotten or struggle with the words on their own, they smile and sing like a choir. Their faces absolutely glow when they sing without struggling.”

She is quick to point out this is not a solo project, and she credits staff from the Dementia Society for making the young program a success.

“I work with Sharon Cameron from the Dementia Society and she is a great resource for our members, but she has helped me gain more understanding of this disease,” she said. “She can read the room and she can quickly identify if one of our members is struggling or becoming distressed and she can provide immediate assistance and before you know it, they are right back on the song page again.”

The October inaugural choir enjoyed a successful debut and Ms. Krieger believes it will grow in popularity as word gets out.

“Although we meet and sing in our church, we don’t gear it towards any form of religious teaching and that is just the way our church council wants it to operate,” she added. “For them, this is another community outreach program that addresses a need in our area.”

Dementia Society Supportive

Often when people first hear that a beloved family member or longtime friend has been diagnosed with dementia, it is not unusual for some to be overcome with a feeling of helplessness because they know the disease is cruel.

Its progression can eventually render a once strong independent person into a shadow of their former selves. For some, they are unable to recall the loved ones that have been part of their lives for decades. 

Ms. Krieger freely admits it was a big leap to suddenly working with a group of individuals who may at times present as fairly normal to suddenly becoming agitated as they grasp for words when trying to relay an idea or memory.

“I think I am like a lot of people who thought that dementia and alzheimer’s were the same,” she said. “It isn’t. Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia. I’ve learned a lot in a short time working with the Dementia Society of Ottawa and Renfrew County. They have been very supportive of this idea and are a great resource.”

Each person experiences dementia uniquely. This is why the Dementia Society advocates for and employs an individualized approach to care. Ms. Krieger is impressed the local dementia chapter works not only with the patient, but they offer resources, advice and support for their caregivers and families.

“Just think of how stressful it must be to watch a loved one slowly lose the ability to perform the simplest of tasks because of the impact of the disease on their brain functions,” she said. “But imagine the joy they must feel when they watch that same person suddenly smile and come to life as they join others to sing in unison in their choir.”

When asked just how big or popular the one-month-old choir will become, Ms. Krieger says it is limitless.

“I can’t say we will have this many people this month and next month we will have this amount simply because it depends on the members,” she said. “Like all of us, our members may have a bad day and simply decide they are not coming out on that particular Thursday.

“But what I can tell you for certainty is if you watch and listen to our choir sing, for a brief moment it is easy to forget they have dementia because of the happiness in their faces. What makes it even better, their caregivers and family members also share that momentary respite.”

For more information, contact Danah at TSAmusicteam@gmail.com or 613-698-7713.