Unlocking the aging mind with music

Musical Minds Choir aims to give members hope

Music has a lot of power-- it can inspire emotion, healing, and in some cases, even unlock the mind, according to experts.

A viral video backs up that idea-- Simon McDermott is seen singing with his father in a car. McDermott said Ted McDermott has Alzheimer's disease, but when they sing together, McDermott said he gets the father he remembers growing up with back for just a few minutes.

[WEB EXTRA: Musical Minds Choir I Alzheimer’s Foundation of America I Alzheimer’s and Dementia Caregiver Center I Mayo Clinic

Now, in Central Florida, there's a choir that aims to do just that-- made up entirely of individuals with memory loss, dementia or Alzheimer's.

From fun childhood tunes to patriotic songs, the Musical Minds Choir at Central Florida Community Arts in Orlando brings positive energy and fond memories to the group.

"If the song is important to them, then it is important to us," said choir director Kevin Harris. "The coolest part about this choir is, once we start spending time together, making music, you can't tell who has dementia and who doesn't."

Harris said they're creating their own reality.

"So one of the things that is important, at least important to me, was to create a safe place for them to be where they are in their journey without having to apologize," said Harris.

He said it's also a place where members can exercise their mind and body.

"Music is unique because it addresses all the senses. It's part of a learning, it's part of a memory. It's part of a physical activity," said Harris.

Certified neurologist Dr. Ira Goodman agreed, saying the medical community is still learning a lot about dementia and why people get it.

"We have been realizing over the last few years, when somebody hears music, it creates emotion," said Goodman. "And emotion actually unlocks a lot of memories. Another thing is music is very embedded in the brain. We see people with very advanced Alzheimer's disease who have more difficulty in language and more difficulty in memory but can recall songs and music and when they recall they can think of other memories when they first heard the music. For example, at your senior prom or when you go to the movies and you hear that song, 'Oh gee, I remember the surroundings when I heard that song.'"

The Alzheimer's Association said right now 5 million people age 65 and older suffer from the disease. But by the year 2050, that number could hit 13 million.

However, Dr. Goodman said there's hope.

"There's the light at the end of the tunnel. We're now at the next phase of addressing and treating Alzheimer's disease," said Goodman.

That's good news for Cherry and Bruce Urich. Cherry takes her husband every week to the Musical Minds Choir.

"As a caregiver, for me, it's an hour and a half of taking you out of your situation and where and you're just like, it's hard to explain," said Cherry Urich. "You forget everything and just sing your heart out.:

Bruce Urich said the singing helps him deal with his Parkinson's disease and dementia.

"It's a joy to be there with the other people. It makes me very happy to share in the singing," said Bruce Urich.

"Some mornings before we leave, it's like, 'Are we going to make it through today?' And we leave here with a new hope," said Cherry Urich.

Those words are exactly why Harris said he does his job.

"Itt reminds me that life is incredibly sacred, it's incredibly heart warming," said Harris.

Goodman said if your loved one is starting to show signs, take a breath. Have them make an appointment with their doctor, and then start looking at ways to keep your loved one active-- physically and mentally.