Improving Memory in Dementia Patients through Music in Chapel Hill and Durham, NC

June 24, 2013

We all know the feeling… we hear a great song that we have not heard in a long time, and we are immediately transported to a different time and place.  We may recall where we were when we heard it or the special person we were with.  It helps recreate vivid images of what we were doing and what was going on at that moment in out lives.   The experience is sublime.

“Alive Inside” is a fabulous documentary about a non-profit organization called Music & Memory.  Music & Memory donates iPods to dementia patients.  The iPods are loaded with music from their youth.  Many groups devoted to senior care in Orange and Durham Counties (North Carolina) are supporting the initiative, including Chapel Hill and Durham Eldercare Resources (CHADER), as well as the Orange County Department on Aging.

One of the most notable excerpts from the movie is the account of Henry Dryer, which has been making the rounds on YouTube.  With fairly advanced dementia, Henry was mostly inactive and, at best, responded to questions with monosyllabic yes or no answers.   After listening to his favorite music, Mr. Dryer becomes much more animated.  He moves his body to the music.  Remarkably, he begins to carry on short conversations.

The science behind this appears to be supported by research conducted on Alzheimer’s patients at Boston University.  Neurologists conclude that music affects the brain more deeply than many other stimuli.

What is the value of all this?  Researchers believe there are practical benefits.  The key aspect of the study at BU is that showing that Alzheimer’s patients can actually learn new information more effectively if it is combined with music.  As an example, a simple, catchy jingle might help patients remember when to take their medications.

Even if you are skeptical of the science, music can put a smile on grandma’s face, and that alone is a good thing.

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