BRANDON — As the first strains of You've Got a Friend wafted from the speakers, a smile replaced the vacant stare on Pat Lubber's face.
She slowly raised her hands from her wheelchair and began to sway, picking up tempo as her fingers trailed across invisible piano keys.
All around her, the transformation echoed. An audience that moments ago had seemed lost in thought began to tap toes and sing along with the lyrics on the screen at the front of the room.
With microphone in hand, Laurie Ohall worked her way through the crowd. When Que Sera, Sera came on, a dozen ladies chimed in with their best Doris Day voice.
Que sera, sera
Whatever will be, will be.
The future's not ours to see
Que sera, sera!
What will be will be!
"I knew you guys would sing along to this one," Ohall said. "You like this one."
Once a month at Superior Residences of Brandon, a home-like community for dementia patients, Ohall hosts a karaoke session.
Born of a love for karaoke and a desire to connect with clients in a new way, Ohall, an elder-law attorney based in Brandon, started "Karaoke With the Seniors" two years ago with friend and colleague Irma Davila.
The pair host the event at several locations each month. At the Bridges Assisted Living and Retirement Community in Brandon, wine is served along with the music.
"We have a blast at the Bridges," Ohall said. "They get up and sing and dance."
When the pair brought the event to Superior Residences, they weren't sure what to expect.
"The first time we did it there, I thought, 'Oh, no, they're not going to get anything out of it because they're too far gone,' " Ohall said.
She soon realized that was not the case.
Bill Andrew, the life enrichment assistant at Superior Residences, can attest to that.
"It's kind of amazing. They may not know their son or daughter is walking through the door, but they know every word to their favorite songs," he said. "It really keeps them going, keeps them alive."
Studies show that music can have a profound effect on dementia patients.
"When used appropriately, music can shift mood, manage stress-induced agitation, stimulate positive interactions, facilitate cognitive function and coordinate motor movements," according to the Alzheimer's Foundation of America.
Songs from the patient's early adult years often resonate the most.
With some of Superior's residents in their 90s, that meant learning songs from as far back as the 1930s.
"We have a love of older music from the '60s, but we had to learn a lot older than that," Ohall said.
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During a recent visit, Ohall and Davila, along with Arthur Moseley, of Griswold Home Care, and Andrew, the life enrichment assistant at Superior, led the crowd, taking turns at the microphone.
"If you want to hear something, speak up," Ohall said. "We'll bring the mike right to you."
As It Had to Be You reached the chorus, Andrew knelt on one knee and serenaded 94-year-old Christina Walsh, affectionately known as Teeny, before turning the microphone toward her.
From somewhere beneath the purple and blue blanket draped across her small frame, a voice streamed out.
"It had to be you, wonderful you, it had to be you," she sang.
"All right. Give it up for Teeny," Andrew shouted.
It's moments like that that keep Ohall coming back.
"The first time we were there it looked like she was asleep," Ohall said. "Then when the music came on, she lit up and would sing the words to everything."
When Moseley first saw the effect karaoke had on residents, he was so amazed that he formed his own senior karaoke group with members of his church. They hold similar events at facilities in the North Tampa area.
He joins Ohall and Davila whenever his schedule permits.
When the hourlong session wound to an end, Ohall put on the same 1930s song she always plays.
Good-night, sweet-heart, well, it's time to go
Goodnight, sweetheart, well, it's time to go
I hate to leave you, but I really must say
Good-night, sweet-heart, good-night.
As the music faded, employees helped the residents back to their rooms.
Shelley Rossetter can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3401.