Film Highlights Benefit of Music Therapy for Dementia
What memories do you have of music? Not to date myself but one of my earliest memories was when my mom would sing the Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand” as she offered her guidance crossing the street when I was a youngster. My father’s memories are different. He loves classical music which he learned during the music appreciation classes taught in his school in New York City in the 1930s. Another senior friend of mine gets his toes tapping when he turns on a radio program featuring the Big Band songs that he listened to during World War II.
The memories that are tied to these musical compositions are the focus of a fascinating award-winning documentary called “Alive Inside: The Story of Music and Memory.” This movie, which was released in 2014 and is now available on Netflix, follows social worker Dan Cohen over a three-period when he takes iPods containing specifically selected musical pieces to long-term care facilities. He places the ear phones gently over the ears of people with dementia and other mental conditions and waits for their reaction. I’ve heard about music therapy being used with people with dementia. However, what is so powerful about this movie is that you actually see the effect that listening to a meaningful piece of music has on the brain and body.
I watched this movie with my friend, Mara. Both of us have watched family members and friends struggle with dementia and we both found the movie fascinating. Mara was amazed to see the deep relationship that music has in one’s life. In this movie, you watch people with dementia and other cognitive issues who were isolated and had become drawn into themselves. Once the earphones were placed on their head and the iPod with their specific music turned on, a change happened. Their body started moving. There was an alertness and a responsiveness that suddenly emerged. Oftentimes, they started singing and talking, even though they had been considered non-verbal previously. “To see someone who wouldn’t look up and wouldn’t know his children change into someone who is animated after listening to a specific piece of music that makes up memories,” Mara said. “This is the state where we all feel most alive.” The movie also includes interviews with a variety of experts, including best-selling author Oliver Sacks and musician Bobby McFerrin.
The movie pointed out that music is associated with the regions of the brain that are the last to be destroyed by dementia. Furthermore, much of the music that is used in this program come from childhood, teenage and early adult years which tend to last longer than more recent memories in people who have dementia. Thus, listening to these songs allows the loved one to access these memories and may result in their being able to communicate in ways that they haven’t been able to do for a long time.
Because of the success of his initial efforts, Cohen has founded the non-profit organization Music & Memory to promote the use of music to help combat memory loss. The organization is tasked with training elder care professionals on how to create personalized music playlist that are delivered on iPods and other digital devices for those with cognitive issues. Furthermore, the organization has created a Music & Memory certification program for elder care facilities. This certification helps ensure that loved ones have access to the transformative benefits of personalized music. The organization also offers publications on how to run an iPod donation drive, create a personalized playlist for loved ones at home, and why personalized music is important in elder care. The Music & Memory website also collects gently-used iPods as well as donations to expand this initiative across the country.
The cool part about this program is that it can be tailored to specific interests. Whereas some of my older friends would love to listen to Mozart, someone with early onset dementia could respond to the Rolling Stones or Peter, Paul and Mary. Therefore, I’d encourage you to watch this movie, check out this website, and consider getting involved in this cause. In addition, if you have a loved one with dementia, try a similar musical experiment and see what reaction you get. You may be pleasantly surprised!
Primary Sources for This Sharepost:
Music & Memory. (2014). Website.
Rossato-Bennett, M. (2014). Alive inside: The story of music & memory. Netflix.