Songs & Smiles Delivers Joy to Memory Care Patients, Caregivers

Music bridges communication divides, sparks recognition in those with dementia

Lyrics floated through the air, voices joined in harmony, and laughter echoed around the room.

The scene exudes joy, though the location could be a bit surprising: a memory care facility. 

Still, this is the norm for one of these events – a Songs & Smiles singalong, led by director of songs Eric Kolb. 

Songs & Smiles, founded in 2017, aims to strengthen family connections during the difficult Alzheimer’s journey. To do so, the organization leads singalongs at memory care facilities, acknowledging the tremendous power of music to bring people together and spark recognition among dementia patients.

Sheryl and Eric Kolb first had the idea for Songs & Smiles while caring for family members who had dementia, namely Sheryl’s grandmother Olive and mother Trish.

“It was really hard for Sheryl to visit her mom or to have a normal conversation,” Eric said. “But if there was music playing or someone singing, it became an easy visit. We want other families to have easy visits too.”

The first Songs & Smiles event occurred at a birthday party for Trish in 2017. 

Initially, the Kolbs had no plans to continue with the events. Still, now the organization travels to various memory care facilities throughout the area, organizes family photo sessions, and even publishes its dementia-friendly magazine. 

John Ponder, executive director of Songs & Smiles, first became involved with the organization through his friendship with the Kolb family. He admires the organization for not only helping patients but their caregivers as well.

“Eric’s main thrust was not to cure Alzheimer’s but to help the people who take care of those with Alzheimer’s have some relief and some method of dealing with their stress,” Ponder said.

A typical Songs & Smiles singalong lasts around an hour, featuring familiar songs such as Take Me Out to the Ball Game and You Are My Sunshine.  

Eric, who has been singing since he was a child and used to sing the National Anthem at Texas Rangers games, broadcasts the words on a screen for residents and visitors to join in the singing.

“Putting the lyrics up adds an extra layer of connection,” Eric said. “It gives everyone a deeper level of competence and comfort to sing along.”

Rosa Yurko, life enrichment director of Iris Memory Care of Turtle Creek, appreciates Songs & Smiles for the joy it brings residents.

“Our residents love the program,” Yurko said. “Eric is so present with them and just so charismatic.”

Recently, Songs & Smiles received a $6,000 bi-annual grant from the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America. The organization plans to use the money to bolster its in-person singalong program, replace old equipment, and plan community events to reach beyond memory care communities.

“Eighty percent of people with dementia are not living in facilities; they’re with somebody at home,” Kolb said. “This AFA grant will help us reach those people.”

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