Music Therapy Provides Comfort for Alzheimer’s Sufferers

Much can be said about the power of music. They say it soothes the soul — and that couldn’t be more true than when you’re talking about the incredible benefits of music therapy for those suffering with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.

Alive Inside: An inside look at the awakening effect of music therapy

A documentary titled Alive Inside takes a look at some of these profound effects. One story in particular led to a viral video which reached well over one million views on YouTube to date. The video features an elderly man, Henry, who begins a personalized music therapy session slumped over and essentially unresponsive — and the transformation he undergoes as he begins to hear music from his generation is nothing short of incredible.

Music Therapy

Image by Robert Couse-Baker via Flickr Creative Commons

As the music begins to play, it activates some long-buried memories for Henry, and he comes to life. He’s able to respond to questions and talk about his youth. According to social worker Dan Cohen, whose work the documentary focuses on, this is the type of magic that happens when Alzheimer’s patients are exposed to the familiarity of music from their own generations. Cohen’s goal is to make personalized music therapy the standard of care in nursing homes across the U.S.

The link between music and memory

How is this possible? Most often, long-term memory is preserved better than shorter-term memories in Alzheimer’s disease. Music, which taps into long-term memories from decades before, tends to activate those memories and achieve what Cohen calls the “awakening response,” which he calls, “exciting to see.”

And it’s not just the short-term effects of the moment the music is played that are benefiting residents among four facilities in New York state which participated in a pilot program. Staff from those facilities are reporting increased socialization as residents get excited to share their personal playlists with their peers.

Ultimately, the project is designed to help Alzheimer’s and dementia patients remember who they are, as the sense of isolation and feelings of lost identity are common as memories fade. Cohen hopes to reduce the costs of implementing the program to zero. Currently, they’re utilizing old iPods, which have now been around long enough that there are plenty of unused devices lying around that people are likely to donate.

Back in April 2012, there were five school districts on Long Island running iPod donation drives — which provides an opportunity to bring two generations together in a different way.

How to get involved

MusicandMemory.org is a website dedicated to raising awareness, encouraging donations and conveying the latest research findings which support the idea of music as a valuable therapy tool for Alzheimer’s sufferers — even offering webinars for those interested in being trained in the program.

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