How does music create miracles for persons with Alzheimer’s?

your brain on music

 

I’m writing this on Tuesday morning to post for tomorrow.  The reason the intersection of Alzheimer’s and music is on my mind is because I will journey in a few minutes to Unforgettable Tuesdays Day Club in Longview, Texas, to play for a group of persons with Alzheimer’s, their caregivers and the volunteers who man the day club.

Unforgettable Tuesdays is a respite program that meets once a week for four hours and provides the participants an opportunity to fellowship and caregivers a slight respite from their duties.

What if you knew you were about to experience a miracle?

I don’t say this glibly for the word miracle is so often misused.  However there simply is no other word that can adequately describe what happens in the room when the guitar begins to play, the old songs start to flow, people come to life.

In recent years scientists have finally gotten their minds around the healing power of music. They are studying it, wondering about the mysteries of how the brain processes tones and rhythm.

Based on that research one state has funded a program that purchases iPods for persons with Alzheimer’s.

Why you might ask?

Because the evidence shows that a person who listens to a play list of her favorite songs on a iPod begins to make brain connections which everyone thought were lost for good.  The light returns to her eyes.  She moves in ways she hasn’t moved in years. She becomes communicative again.

Of course, the results of this introduction of music to persons with Alzheimer’s doesn’t create an identical reaction in each patient.  It is unique to each person.

But it never fails to bring with it a miracle.

I have known this for years, and am surprised it has taken science so long to grasp the notion.

I remember the first time I played for people at a memory care center.  In my ignorance I believed I would just perform the songs solo and that the participants, many of them in advanced stages of AD, would not be able to join in.

Man, was I mistaken.

On that occasion I played mostly old hymns.

When I began the first song, I was amazed to hear all the voices singing along with me.

Not just a few words, bits and pieces of the tunes.

Rather, the patients, without reference to song books, sang all the verses, word for word.

They knew the songs better than I.

Pause for  minute and think about that.

Here were people who could  not tell you their names, or the names of their spouse, or their children.

But they could sing all the words in all the verses of those hymns which had meant so much to them throughout their lives.

On other occasions I have seen people confined to their chairs for months rise to their feet, even dance a slight jig.

I have seen a man with AD play the harmonica in a style fit for Carnegie Hall.

I have seen a husband and wife, both stricken with the disease, stand in front of a microphone and sing a duet in perfect harmony.

I could go on.

But you see my point.

What I am driving at is this.  If you are a musician, please don’t hide your talent under a bushel.  Find a local center that cares for Alzheimer’s patients and set up a time to play some music for them.

I know how much it will mean to the participants.

And I know a  miracle is in store for you.

I promise.

 

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  • Caleb Pirtle

    Stephen, music has always been able to touch the soul and go where nothing else can go. And good writing always carries with it the rhythm of good music.

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