Digging Deeper: Area choir stands in the light despite dementia - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

Digging Deeper: Area choir stands in the light despite dementia diagnosis

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Eau Claire (WQOW) - The greatest risk factor for developing dementia is age. Unfortunately there's no cure for that, and there's also no cure for dementia. However, if you challenge your brain, you can slow the symptoms. That's what a group of seniors in Eau Claire is doing right now.

In August the “Stand in the Light” choir was started by Cathy Reitz. This choir isn't like any other musical act in Eau Claire, everyone in the choir, is affected by dementia.

“It's made up of couples,” Reitz says, “Where it is one person with dementia, and a care partner.”

The choir is based on the “Giving Voice” choir out of Minneapolis.

"I went up to Minneapolis and watched a rehearsal last spring, and it was amazing. Truly, you say it and it's so true, I was sitting in the audience watching this rehearsal and I thought, who has dementia? Who are the people that have dementia? Is it that couple? No. Is it? And I realized this really is an awesome thing,” says Reitz.

Lisa Wells, the dementia specialist at the Eau Claire ADRC, says in a brain affected by dementia, cells begin to die causing holes to develop.

According to Wells, "Dementia is a general term used to describe a set of symptoms that cause deficits to your cognitive abilities. So your thinking skills. And those symptoms can include short term memory loss or memory loss."

Wells recommended Reitz consider starting the “Stand in the Light” choir after she lost her sister to dementia in January.

"Well the choir's wonderful for the brain, it's good for anybody,” says Wells, “but parts of the brain, affected by music are the last to be affected by Alzheimer's Disease."

A member of the “Stand in the Light” choir, Vivian Waltmire is 91 years old. In 2005 she had colon cancer surgery. During the surgery she developed a blood clot, and the doctors wanted to dissolve the clot with Heparin. They didn't know that Waltmire was allergic to Heparin, and her body reacted by having a spasm in the brain. That led to her dementia.

According to Vivian, “I don't know how to explain it. If I could have any other disease, I would have it. But the memory loss, you're just out of it. You're just out of it.”

Her husband, Richard, says it can be frustrating to deal with, “Her attitude in things that she does changes. Almost all the time. It's different from one day to another. It's just hard to adjust to that. It's not the same everyday. That's what makes it difficult to do that. And a person of that type, doesn't realize that. They're remembering what they're remembering now. And eventually, some people, and I happen to be one of them, lose the patience once in a while. Because you sort of had it, doing the same thing. A lot of people don't understand that. But you do lose it. And it's hard.”

Vivian's daughter, Nancy Wendt, who is also the accompanist for the “Stand in the Light” choir, says the hardest part of it all is losing some of her mom, “We would talk and talk and talk about lots of things. Now that's hard to do because of so much repetitiveness. We'll start a conversation and she'll get off of it and back on. I think the hardest thing as a daughter is having lost some of my mom.”

The choir is having an affect on Vivian, her main caretaker at the assisted living facility where she lives, says not only is she continuing to play the piano, but for the first time she's also singing along as well.

This group has already been through quite a bit in a few short months. They started rehearsals at the Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ. The night before their fourth practice the church was struck by lightning and was destroyed after a fire.

They took it in stride and moved to the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd. Despite it all, the show went on. Thursday, November 10th they gave their first concert.

If you or someone you know is interested in the stand in the light choir, contact the Eau Claire ADRC.

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