Saturday, April 21, 2012

For Elders With Dementia, Musical Awakenings : NPR comments


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For Elders With Dementia, Musical Awakenings

Martha Hyde (Ratcatcher)
For those interested in more on this aspect, see the article by Wendy Chatterton, Felicity Baker, and Kylie Morgan. 2010. The Singer or the Singing: Who Sings Individually to Persons With Dementia and What Are the Effects? Am.J.Alzheimers Dis.Other Demen. 25(8): 641-649. It is found at You can download the pdf and other articles in this journal for free until 04/30/12 if you register first.
April 20, 2012 8:28:12 PM EDT
Maggie Hettinger (maggieh)
I have experienced this, also. A trip to the rec room to ask my Dad to help me practice some piano music "turns on the lights," and I get a good piano lesson from this man who is otherwise passively confused or frustrated. Yet, when I leave, he goes back to his "normal." A big barrier seems to be technology. If there were a way to set up the playlists on a device in the person's room with a big, simple, physical on/off button, a volume control and perhaps (but maybe not) a way for the person to select playlists 1,2,3 or 4, we'd have a break thru. The other thing that might be useful is a simple way for someone else to update the "radio stations" with holiday or seasonal music. A TV remote is too difficult. An iPod and headset is not manageable. A CD player isn't much better. The internet which the rest of us depend on is not accessible. People are reduced to being parked in their rooms in front of endless game shows or morning "news." I would like to encourage any young people wanting to do a "service project" to take this challenge: one person at a time.
April 20, 2012 7:50:54 PM EDT
Leeann Ko (rosedaisy)
My grandma moved in with my husband and I over a year ago. She had been living alone for 42 years since her husband died. It was a very difficult transition for her at first living with us but with demmentia in her life living alone was no longer an option. One time we took her to a senior center hoping to possibly broaden her horizons. My grandma got very upset in the center and we left immediately. She wanted to return to Arizona where she had been living; it was a terribly long 4 hours. I do not know why but I started to practice my clarinet. She listened and she finally calmed down. I have lost track of times where my husband and I would just break out in song in order to quite my grandma's emotions. Thanks for much for sharing this article. Music is wonderful!
April 20, 2012 7:13:30 PM EDT
mairi dorman-phaneuf (hallidayhall)
I work for a wonderful organization called 'Concerts in Motion.' One of the services we offer is - through coordination with medical and social service agencies - to bring music into the homes of home-bound seniors in NYC. We send pairs of professional musicians to play for those people who are not able to attend group concerts. We are able to play, or sing, any type of music that is requested. It is a tremendously rewarding experience every time. We also provide group and student concerts. Our website is
April 20, 2012 12:47:40 PM EDT
Judy Talley (BETJWT)
Caring for my mother, first with Parkinson's, then with Dementia, for over 12 years, I found that playing some of her favorite old time music was one of her most pleasurable times. I have a subscription to Pandora on the Internet and created a George Shearing station - my mother used to play the piano and George's era pop tunes were some of her favorites. Now, she is in a board and care facility and I just ordered a handful of CD's, George of course, Nat King Cole, Duke Ellington and Johnny Mathis. I thought about an MP3 player, but, my mom likes to dismantle anything she can get her hands on, so I talked to the board and care owner and asked if mom's roommate would mind if I set up some gentle music to play when she is in her room resting and she thought that her roommate would probably enjoy it, too. So, I just bought an inexpensive portable CD player and the staff can just change a CD every once in awhile. I can't wait to get it set up for her as I know it will improve the quality of her life immediately. Perhaps nursing homes should consider playing soft music over their PA systems. I've worked in and visited nursing homes for over 40 years and think that might improve the environment and entertain the patients, too.
April 20, 2012 12:24:06 PM EDT
linda robertson (lleee)
Thank you for this amazing program. Decades ago, before much was known about Alzheimer's, as my father lost more and more of his memory, he would stand before a wall of family pictures for long periods of time. Pictures of he an mom when young, my brother and our portraits when very young, our graduation and wedding pictures. Even then I instinctively knew he was connecting to his past in some way. And though I did not know how to do it then, I have since sensed that music could make those same connections to our first memories. This report and the videos on youtube are almost miraculous for family and staff alike. With a strong family history, I am writing my song list now. I can't wait to see the documentary and hope it is required watching for all owners and operators of nursing homes.
April 20, 2012 10:25:29 AM EDT
b sale (ime)
I'm making a playlist of my 90 year old mom's music this weekend....
April 20, 2012 10:14:21 AM EDT
April 20, 2012 9:20:16 AM EDT
Craig Berg (Brasil108)
The headphones seem to be an essential part of the power of this effect. I saw that power dramatically demonstrated in my four years sharing music on headphones with the ragamuffins of my former neighborhood in Bangalore, India. I've posted a video showing the bliss these "untouchable" kids got from listening to CLASSICAL INDIAN MUSIC on headphones. View the video here:, or go to Youtube and search "The Real Slumdog Kids". Ragas for Ragamuffins!
April 20, 2012 8:15:28 AM EDT
Ryan Sherman (RyanSherman)
I work as a caregiver for an elderly Alzheimers/dimentia patient and can attest to some of what was mentioned. Although a fictional story, it is worth checking out the recent movie "The Music Never Stopped" which is along the same lines only their story revolves around a patient with a brain tumor instead of Alzheimer's...
April 19, 2012 8:28:04 PM EDT
Scott Donaldson (ScottDon)
This is such an inspiration! Thanks for this article and these tips. Can hardly wait to see the full film. Music and the arts are so valuable for those with Alzheimer's. We have found that painting to music works well with our mother, calms her, helps her communicate. We first learned about the magic of the arts & Alzheimer's from seeing a documentary "I Remember When I Paint". Truly amazing. In case of interest, here is an another article that inspired us "Art & Alzheimer's: Another Way of Remembering"
April 19, 2012 1:39:32 PM EDT
Amy Bogetto-Weinraub (musiclives)
It's great to read about the effects of music on people of any age, diagnosis, challenge, ect. However, as a board certified music therapist, I keep thinking to myself (and sometimes saying aloud as I'm reading) where is the music therapist in this article? Music therapists have been donig this work since 1950. It's great that soical workers, recreation therapists, and other activity therapist are incorporating music in their settings, but it is much more clinical and professional to have a music therapist doing the work and taking it to even more theraputic levels. Please refer to our music therapy websites for more information: and
April 19, 2012 12:33:46 PM EDT
Kate Fuller (KateFuller)
My 88 year old dad has Alzheimer's & dementia & lives with us. My husband is a musician. While my dad rides a stationary bike in my husband's studio, Chuck plays live cocktail music on the piano for my dad. Listening to cowboy music helps my dad calm down when he is experiencing "sundowners syndrome".
April 19, 2012 12:26:19 PM EDT
John Adams (Chazz11)
When someone is labeled with "dementia" or any other serious mental disorder, those around the person begin to draw back and stop expecting ANY cognitive competence, leaving the labeled person to suffer isolation; then still more disability results.

Alzheimer's is thus a social disease. We around the labeled elder must resist the tendency to give up on competence, and actively look for remaining abilities and exercise them. If long-term memory lasts, then any activity relying on that ability fits the bill.

Music is certainly one of the best. But so is reminiscence, storytelling, memoir and autobiographical writing. I like the first two because you get social interaction as a bonus with using LT memory. Cooking and sharing traditional meals from the elder's childhood has a similar effect as music, in that our sense of smell is as powerful as hearing familiar sounds...and we physically nourish ourselves as we do it!

Imagine an art gallery displaying elder's visual art while playing music from the age cohort's time. A big garden space surrounding it, with wheelchair access and paths wide enough to let two chairs pass. In Portland we have Amy Henderson's Geezer Gallery, and similar community gathering places popping up everywhere.
April 19, 2012 12:24:55 PM EDT
Sharon Holtkamp (sholtkamp)
Please contact Deforia Lane, PhD (Music Therapy)and Michael DeGeorgia, MD (Neurocritical Care) at University Hospitals of Cleveland about their extraordinary work with music restoring an altered gait, mind, neural pathways. Attend the annual fascinating "Music and the Mind" one-day synposium held every fall as part of a larger Neurocritical Care conference.
April 19, 2012 11:31:12 AM EDT
John D (zeke7237)
Next time the verse came around we looked throughout the entire audience, and we found the singer ... he was in the very back row, he's have his head down for the verses (and had been down through the show up to that point) but when the chorus came around he'd lift his head, eyes still closed, and belt it out with a gorgeous voice!

Still gives me the shivers thinking about it today ...
April 19, 2012 11:11:01 AM EDT
John D (zeke7237)
I've seen this with my own eyes ...

From the early 1990s until the mid 2000s I worked as a volunteer sound engineer for the Merle Watson Memorial Bluegrass Festival held annually in Wilkesboro, NC. My job was to go out with my partner Gary and set up sound systems at schools, nursing homes, and other community venues so that festival performers could put on free shows for the people in the county.

One year we were doing a gig at a nursing home in Wilkesboro; the performer was George Hamilton IV, a gospel/country singer popular in the 60s. Nursing home gigs were set up in the community room or cafeteria, and as we are setting up and testing they start bringing in the residents. They generally arrange the audience such that the "awake" folks were in the front, with the level of "awakeness" decreasing until you got to the unresponsive ones in the back.

George IV kicked off his show, and about 20 minutes in he was doing some kind of train song (I'm not much into the 60's country scene). It was a typical song, lots of verses and a catchy chorus. A couple of choruses in, I noticed a beautiful strong baritone voice .. I scanned the front rows and didn't see anyone who looked like they could be making that much sound. continued..
April 19, 2012 11:09:06 AM EDT
Uncle Wally (Retroman)
Oliver Sacks has been writing about this for years (he was the original "Awakenings" doctor).
April 19, 2012 9:19:20 AM EDT
Kris Snyder (KrisSnyder)
I have worked as a Certified Music Practitioner for 12 years and can testify to the power of LIVE therapeutic music. I work on a lock-down dementia unit and have had residents who were suffering from aphasia suddenly belt out songs in response to my playing "Beautiful Dreamer" on my harp. Ipods and other devices are nice, but they cannot respond to the immediate needs of the resident/patient. I have had end stage cancer patients report that they don't need their pain medication because the music 'takes it away'... therapeutic music is a wonderful tool - To learn more about live therapuetic music, please visit!
April 19, 2012 9:12:09 AM EDT
JDR INCA (jrinca)
My grandfather spent the last two years of his life largely isolated in his head. One day when I was visiting him in his nursing home, a school group came in to sing Christmas carols. Even though he rarely spoke anymore, he lifted his chin off his chest and sang Silent Night in his strong baritone voice. He got every word right.
April 19, 2012 3:15:25 AM EDT

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