Music Therapy Goes High Tech for Alzheimer'sby Carol Bradley Bursack Caregiver
Music therapy has come into its own during the last decade as caregivers, care facilities and hospice organizations have recognized the therapeutic power that music can have on ill and suffering people. This therapy has been successfully delivered by a single staff member playing a guitar for a residents' sing-along, a specialized harpist playing for a hospice patient or downloaded playlists on iPods that can stimulate memories. Now, Alzheimer's Music Connects (AMC) is taking audio technology even further.
Ron Gregory, founder of Alzheimer's Music Connects, pioneered this music technology after his mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. "The more research I did into music as a therapy"I felt like this is the solution, it's the music," he said in an interview.
Gregory worked with a neurologist and other experts studying brainwaves through Electroencephalography (EEG) technology. He learned that alpha waves associated with relaxation and alertness are gradually diminished as the brain is affected by Alzheimer's disease. Gregory said that the new audio technology works by synchronizing alpha waves and other calming rhythms with the beat of the music.
"People with Alzheimer's disease who listened to the enhanced music became more relaxed and in-the-moment," Gregory said. "Caregivers are able to relax as well, and enjoy some time while their loved ones are engaged in the music," he continued. "We've seen it with patients that were non-communicative " but all the sudden they start to talk and engage and they're much more in the moment."
According to the Alzheimer's Music Connects website, EEG testing by Dr. Lorianne Avino, a neurologist in Orchard Park, N.Y., found that "Alzheimer's patients who were exposed to the enhanced music had amplified brain activity and increased alertness to the present moment and they also demonstrated calmness and contentment and sang or hummed along with the music."
Music from the past engages people with dementia
When my dad's brain surgery backfired leaving him with dementia I was left struggling pretty much on my own. Much of what is now known about dementia wasn't understood at the time. However, as a daughter, I - like many caregivers -discovered through trial and error what worked to improve Dad's quality of life. One of those things was music. I bought every big band CD that I could find so that I could help engage Dad with the music of his youth whenever he was in the mood for it. I even bought him a conductor's wand so he could "direct" the bands.
While at the time I thought the music was just about nostalgia, I've since learned that music does much more. Music has been found to stimulate memory. Now, the audio tools developed by Alzheimer's Music Connects have taken what many of us knew on instinct to be good and made it more accessible and helpful to caregivers and facilities.
In my post Where Words Fail Music Speaks I explore the work of Stan Cohen, a former social worker and technology professional who founded Music & Memory, a nonprofit that provides personalized music via iPods and MP3 players to people in nursing facilities.
Now we can add Alzheimer's Music Connects to the growing list of companies started by people who understand the connection that the human brain - and heart - have with music. This, to me, is one of the most exciting ways to blend technology and love.
Alzheimer's Music Connects (AMC). (2015, January 22) New Audio Technology Helps Alzheimer's Patients Reconnect, Triggers Memories & Relieves Caregivers. Retrieved on January 26, 2015 from