Glen Campbell Offers Case Study of Music's Power in Face of Alzheimer's

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • This week I had the television on for background noise while I was eating dinner. My attention was suddenly grabbed by the promotion of a story on Glen Campbell.  


    As I’ve noted in an earlier sharepost, the legendary musician and songwriter is grappling with Alzheimer’s and is currently living in a full-time care facility. The TV story was about a soon-to-be released documentary called “Glen Campbell…I’ll Be Me” that is scheduled to be released in wider distribution in late October. This documentary, which focuses on Campbell’s final tour as well as his struggle with Alzheimer’s disease, already has won the Gibson Music City/Music City Films Grand Jury Prize at the Nashville Film Festival earlier this year. Country Weekly reported that the documentary was recognized because it shared “an intimate and honest portrayal of a music legend’s battle with Alzheimer’s. Glen Campbell ... I’ll Be Me captures a family’s commitment to love and laugh through the adversity of a debilitating disease.”

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    In the TV story that aired, people talked about how surprised they were that Campbell has continued to be able to play his songs and to sing them. However, research continues to emerge about how music supports brain function. A 2013 National Endowment of the Arts report entitled “Arts and the Aging: Building the Science” pointed out the following:

    • Musicians’ brains show different types of growth than people who don’t play music. A neuroscientist pointed out that musicians have a significantly larger corpus callosum, especially in the interior two-thirds of that region.  (This part of the brain is responsible for linking the two cerebral hemispheres and allowing the brain’s two sides to communicate with each other.) There also were variations in this brain growth based on the intensity of music training that the individual undertook as well as the type of instrument that was played.
    • Researchers have found that music can improve neuropsychiatric symptoms, such as reduced aggression or agitation, in people who have dementia. Furthermore, several music interventions improved the quality of life.
    • Studies also have shown that people with Alzheimer’s disease often retain their music skills and music memory while their other cognitive skills and communication skills diminish. In a review of 24 studies that involved listening to live or recorded music, singing, playing instruments, music therapy or combining music with movement, researchers found that music interventions resulted in a decrease in some negative parts of the condition, including wandering, aggression, agitation, anxiety and depression. A few studies found improvement in memory and language, but researchers were cautious about these findings because of research design shortcomings.

    “So far, participation in arts interventions has been linked with improving cognitive function and memory, general self-esteem and well-being as well as reducing stress and other common symptoms of dementia, such as aggression, agitation and apathy,” the NEA report stated. “Some interventions promote social interaction, which has multiple psychosocial benefits.”


  • So how can you incorporate music into the daily routine of a loved one with dementia? The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America recommends the following:

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    • Select songs from a person’s earlier days. For instance, the top 10 songs from the loved one’s young adult years when they would have been between 18 and 25 years of age often trigger the strongest responses and can spark engagement. Childhood songs also can be beneficial, especially in the latter stages of dementia.
    • Consider the type of music being played, based on the loved one’s needs. Calming music can help ease stressful responses, such as agitation. In comparison, songs with a lot of percussion can promote movement and might help a person with dementia complete activities of daily living.


    Primary Sources for This Sharepost:


    Clair, A. A. (ND). Education and care. Alzheimer’s Foundation of America.


    ETOnline. (2014). Country legend Glen Campbell refuses to be silenced by Alzheimer’s.


    National Endowment for the Arts. (2013). The arts and aging: Building the science.


    Paxman, B. (2014). Glen Campbell documentary receives Nashville Film Festival award. Country Weekly.


    Shanahan, M. & Goldstein, M. (2014). ‘Glen Campbell’ screening is a family affair. The Boston Globe.

Published On: August 08, 2014