Most people like music of some type. Even animals respond to music, or so studies have shown. After surgery left my dad with severe dementia, I can't imagine how dull his life would have been without the big band music CDs I was able to provide for him, since he enjoyed music from the big band era.
Weekly, the PBS re-runs of The Lawrence Welk show blared not only on my parents’ television sets in their nursing home rooms, but from nearly every private TV in the nursing home, plus the large sets in the main sitting rooms. One friend’s mother remarked that “Lawrence Welk never ages!” Of course, at the time, Welk had been dead for years, but the TV show kept him ever young in the minds of his elderly fans. Music, it seems, stays with us even as other faculties decline.
Currently, a feature film, “The Music Never Stopped,” tells the somewhat fictionalized story of the very real science behind the benefits of music therapy. The film is based on music therapy pioneer Dr. Concetta Tomaino. In the film, Dr. Dianne Daly is the key character who reflects the work of the real Dr. Tomaino.
The movie press release states that “The Music Never Stopped,” is “based on the case study ‘The Last Hippie’ by Dr. Oliver Sacks, M.D. … chronicles the journey of a father and son adjusting to a lifetime of missed opportunities and how music therapy helps restore the young man’s memory, as well as his relationship with his family.”
While the film focuses on how music helps a younger man recover his brain health, the effectiveness of music therapy reaches far beyond that premise.
According to Dr. Tomaino, “…music therapy offers numerous evidence-based applications…For example, with someone who has memory problems, particularly with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, we will use music of personal importance. Those emotions are then connected to deep memories that we can attempt to retrieve as they are exposed to that specific music.”
Dr. Tomaino is the Executive Director and Co-Founder of the Institute for Music and Neurologic Function.
More experts on board
In an article titled, “Like Singing Away the Blues, a Harvard-Trained Neurologist Believes Singing Might Also Chase Away Alzheimer's,” Dr. Richard S. Isaacson, Associate Professor of Clinical Neurology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, says singing could help our memory.
Dr. Isaacson is quoted in the article as saying, “Besides such things as eating properly and exercising, there are some novel strategies to treat Alzheimer's … Just as you can sing the blues away, you might be able to do the same thing with Alzheimer's… Music therapy has been shown to be quite effective in stimulating the mind and exercising the memory.”
To read about a similar effect of music therapy on stroke patients, check out the article Music Therapy Helps Some Regain Speech After Stroke.
While it’s not likely that your loved one who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s will beat the disease by listening to music, I do believe that music itself, and perhaps even music specifically used by a trained music therapist, could improve the quality of the person’s life.
My dad didn’t have Alzheimer’s disease. As noted above, his dementia was caused by a failed surgery. However, I saw firsthand the effects of music on his mood. A CD with his favorite big band sound, or better yet, a Lawrence Welk re-run on TV, could distract him from anxiety producing thoughts, if only temporarily. Music was a major tool in my caregiving tool box, when it came to Dad. It could be useful for you, as well.
Meanwhile, studies go on and music therapy gains credibility. More music therapists are being trained. The idea that music will “chase away Alzheimer’s,” as much as I’d like to believe it, seems rather optimistic, however I do feel the approach, as a therapy, shows promise.
Published On: March 31, 2011