It only takes a few minutes of watching the documentary, Alive Inside,
to see the meaningful impact that listening to music can have on people
with dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Filmmaker Michael Rossato-Bennett chronicles the exact moment that people
who appear to be non-responsive to the world around them, suddenly spark
to life when they hear familiar music. The film centers around social
worker Dan Cohen, founder of the non-profit organization, Music &
Memory, as he visits people who have Alzheimer’s or dementia and
puts headphones on them so they can hear music that they love. With the
cameras rolling, these same people “wake up” from their silence
and begin talking and smiling.
Dance to Your Own Beat
Celia Pomerantz used music to tap into her mother’s lifelong love
of salsa music when her mother was in the late stage of Alzheimer’s
disease. Mrs. Pomerantz chronicled her mother's Alzheimer's in
a Kindle book, "Alzheimer's: A Mother Daughter Journey."
"As soon as I felt her lose herself to Alzheimer's, I would bring
in my iTunes and play Spanish music for her," said Mrs. Pomerantz.
"Then I could convince her to do anything -- we would dance over
to the shower or out to get a meal."
Mrs. Pomerantz intuitively found what experts say is a useful tool in helping
people with Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia.
"Music speaks to a person's feelings, so it is a sensory and not
an intellectual experience," said Martha Tierney of the Alzheimer's
"When my mother would hear music, she would give life to the music,"
Mrs. Pomerantz said." It gave her a confidence, peace, and serenity."
Hit the Right Note
Alzheimer's robs people of their short-term memory, explained Ms. Tierney,
but their long-term memory can remain largely intact. "They maintain
vivid memories of the past," she said. "A woman may look at
her elderly husband and not recognize him as her husband because he does
not look 35 years old anymore. So if you were to play music from that
time period it would speak to her current reality."
Many people have found that live music can be particularly welcome for
many Alzheimer's patients. This can be in the form of someone singing
old camp songs, Christmas carols, church hymns, small symphonies and more.
"A person with Alzheimer's feels like everything is unfamiliar
all of the time," Ms. Tierney said. "Allowing them to spend
time with music that they recognize and retain memories of gives them
the sense of familiarity in a world that is otherwise extremely confusing."
Find out more about how therapeutic music can be for loved ones with Alzheimer's
and other illnesses at the American Music Therapy Association's website.