It’s a Monday morning in late September, and Mary Kay Kreisle and company are ready to sing their hearts out for a group of Alzheimer’s patients who live in a nursing home near Emory University.
They’re decked out in glittery garb, befitting fast-approaching Halloween. Their clothing, like their repertoire, varies with the time of year: red, white and blue for July, pretty pastels for Easter, and even flowing evening gowns for prom season.
Breakfast has been put away, and many of the residents are dozing or only half-awake as they’re brought together for what promises to be a lively sing-along.
One or two residents show no reaction. But the majority perk up as the “Sing-Alongs,” as they call themselves, belt out some very old, yet still familiar melodies, such as the folk song “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain,” ragtime’s “Oh, You Beautiful Doll,” and the children’s classic “Farmer in the Dell.”
Soon toes are tapping. Hands are in motion, and lips are moving.
Farrah Jerome, activities director here at A.G. Rhodes nursing home on Atlanta’s Clifton Road, said these monthly sing-alongs are a big hit with residents.
“Oh, my gosh, they love it,” Jerome said. “As soon as they kick in, [the residents] are tuning right in.”
Once a week for nearly nine years, this loose-knit group has been bringing songs and good cheer to residents of “locked” Alzheimer’s units in nursing homes in Fulton and DeKalb counties.
Kreisle decided to form the singing group after an experience she had while volunteering with Atlanta Hospice.
It was Christmas time, and a Boy Scout troop was in the lobby caroling for the nursing home’s residents. Kreisle told her patient – who was in the locked Alzheimer’s unit — about the caroling, and he said he’d love to listen.
“Lo and behold, the staff stopped me and told me he could not leave the unit,” Kreisle said. “He was so disappointed.”
She then wheeled him to the day room and launched into a chorus of “Jingle Bells.”
“Suddenly, the whole room joined in,” she said. “I was astonished.”
The next week, when Kreisle’s tennis game was rained out, she asked the other players to go with her to sing in a locked unit designed to protect Alzheimers’ patients who may wander.
Although their singing abilities were untested, that “quartet” was a smash. “Before I knew it, we were gathering other songs and recruiting other friends,” Kreisle, a former registered nurse, said.
On this particular September morning, the largely female singing group has a new member. Rebecca Jones, a Decatur psychologist, saw the Sing-Alongs in action the previous week at the community where her mother lives and asked to join.
“People with memory disorders — some of them can still read, and many of them know the melodies and the words to it,” she said. “They can remember the music and the melody when they can’t remember who you are.”
Maureen McAndrews heard the Sing-Alongs at the community where her late mother lived between 2016 and 2018.
“My mother enjoyed it a lot,” McAndrews said. “It was a big value, and I think it’s a great thing that they’re doing.”
Each Monday of the month, about eight to 10 of the Sing-Alongs gather at a nursing home for 30 minutes to an hour of lively singing. They come armed with songbooks and props. Showmen that they are, some of the singers are usually working the room, putting arms around the patients, taking their hands and smiling into faces that they hope will smile back at them.
One of the group’s original singers has Alzheimer’s and is now in a locked unit in Marietta. The Sing-Alongs periodically try to make a road trip to her facility so they can sing in her unit.
“She still seems to remember most of us and certainly knows the songs,” Kreisle said.
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