To clarify: Dementia is not a disease but a group of different diseases characterized by the gradual worsening of cognitive abilities. Dementia is seen across all ethnic groups and increasingly so with advancing age. Among 65–69-year-olds, about 2 percent are afflicted, with this figure doubling for every five years of age. Alzheimer’s accounts for 60 to 80 percent of cases.
Regular readers know that I lost an aunt to Alzheimer’s and my mother suffered from dementia late in her life, so all aspects of these aberrations are important to me.
I ran across a fascinating article in Agingcare.com about a project started by a social worker who was also a music fan. Dan Cohen “asked his local nursing home if he could come in and bring some digital music players with custom-made playlists to patients. Through trial and error, he learned what songs each patient liked and the ones they didn’t, then he remixed the play list accordingly. Every two weeks for 18 months, the patients Cohen worked with received updated songs. And he taught caregivers how to create playlists too.”
Cohen found immediate success. “Patients who used to be easily agitated soon seemed docile when a caregiver put headphones on them and encouraged them to listen. Others who were unresponsive suddenly lit up with awareness, and the ones who barely spoke suddenly wanted to converse.“
Now, after six years, Cohen’s small experiment has become a non-profit called Music and Memory. It has introduced iPods to over 50 nursing homes and assisted living centers in the U.S. and Canada. A documentary on it has become a viral sensation.
“The evidence isn’t just observational. Brain scans show that when people listen to music that’s autobiographical, music that evokes an important place, time or emotion for the listener, regions of the brain become stimulated, particularly the brain’s memory maker, the medial prefrontal cortex. That’s an important factor for patients with Alzheimer’s and dementia.”
Concetta Tomaino, D.A., executive director and co-founder of the Institute for Music and Neurologic Functions in New York says that it isn’t just Alzheimer’s and dementia patients who can benefit from this kind of music therapy.
She says, “ … when the auditory system is stimulated it can even override pain signals, providing relief in a way medicine sometimes cannot. Chemical changes occur, too, when patients hear music. Scientific evidence shows that listening to music you enjoy increases serotonin in the brain and decreases the stress hormone cortisol.”
I was not able to find a link for Cohen’s Music and Memory group. The film was done several years ago.