WATCH: "The 5th Dementia" is a band in Los Angeles, California, for people with dementia that's using the power of music to fight the disease.
Inside a church in Los Angeles on a Saturday afternoon, The 5th Dementia is giving one of its biannual concerts to family and friends. The band is comprised of senior citizens, but that's not what makes it unique.
All of the members have dementia, a neurological disease usually characterized by cognitive impairment and memory loss.
"We share an illness," says band member Diana Diabow, who has Parkinson's disease. "But because of the illness, we also share each other’s lives."
Our focus is not on the illness. It's on having fun, making music.
Diabow says she's been lucky so far. The disease hasn't progressed too much in the last few years. She can still speak with ease but does stumble on words every now and then.
The band sings oldies at every show, providing a cross-generational immersive experience for the high school students who form a part of the band.
Carol Rosenstein started the band after she saw the impact music had on her husband, Irwin.
"I could see while he was playing the piano, he would resurrect," Rosenstein said. "Something magical was happening, like a plant that was drooping and needed watering. He would sit right up."
And there might be a reason for that. Multiple studies suggest that keeping your brain busy by speaking two languages or playing music may stave off dementia symptoms by five years.
Rosenstein, a former chiropractor, started "Music Mends Minds" with her husband. She says the fact that musical memories are stored in a different part of the brain may have to do with music's effects on dementia.
A study of Swedish twins with dementia found that playing music may help with cognitive development. There's no definitive science to indicate that music prevents or cures dementia (there is no known cure), but it was enough for Rosenstein to launch Music Mends Minds, a non-profit that has launched bands across the country.
"Anyone stricken with neurodegenerative diseases, music is still accessible to them till their 11th hours," Rosenstein said.
The band of about 20 people meets to rehearse twice a week. Those who have experience playing musical instruments play instruments. Those who don't, sing. But they don't do it alone.
High school students from Windward School are also part of the band.
"Honestly, most of the time, you can't tell they have the disease because the music is working," Jared Bishop, a high school sophomore, said.
Diana Diabow sings along to "In the Jungle" with a high school student volunteer.
Something magical was happening, like a plant that was dropping and needed watering.
—Carol Rosenstein, on the effect of music
For the band members with dementia, the effects of the music vary, but they all seem to enjoy the company of their young band members.
"Oh god, I love them." Diana Diabow said. "They are so fabulous. They're so willing. They're also like kids to the grandparents."
Janice Hassett says music has been "transformative" for her husband Mike, who had to stop working and move from Massachusetts to California to be closer to his daughters because of the disease.
But perhaps those impacted the most by the disease are those sitting at the pews on this Saturday afternoonthe family and friends of those afflicted by dementia.
"What we've seen is that being part of this band not only put music back into Mike's life," Janice Hassett said of her husband. "It's given him a purpose. It's given him a reason to get up in the morning."
To donate to Music Mends Minds, which helps start musical support bands, click here.
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