Music and Alzheimer’s

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By Preston Quinn

Loss of memory, motor function, and speech. These are the symptoms of one of the most common and challenging illnesses, Alzheimer’s disease. When somebody is diagnosed with it, it does not just affect them, but everyone in a close proximity of that person. If someone in your family is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, you know you will be caring for that person for the rest of their lives. It is a chilling and skeletal feeling, and I wouldn’t wish it upon my worst enemy. For those families struggling with the emotional weight of watching a loved one degrade, the small things really do make a difference. Little bright spots of memory come back for a second and it means everything.

Music therapy is becoming more and more common among nursing homes and hospices globally because of its potency. Patients are taught to write songs and tap into their life to connect memories to the music. It is amazing how easily patients are able to remember through song. Music therapists are often the only professionals providing support emotionally, cognitively, socially, and physically each session. It can improve quality of life, inspire positive emotions, and reduce pain, and more studies are continuing. Not only is it proving to be an inspiring tool for Alzheimer’s disease, but also for children with autism. It is proving itself to be one of the most innovative and successful treatment programs in recent history.

In a recent chat with a man whose father suffered from Alzheimer’s, George Beschen, it was very clear that the disease has had a very strong impact on his life. George’s father was a Philly school teacher, an avid tennis player, and sang in his local choir. He was just retired at 59 when he first started to show signs. He was constantly active and was always athletic. According to George his dad was the youngest-looking 59-year-old man you’ve ever seen. It’s amazing to see someone that you think you are going to have so much more time with fall victim to a disease that you associate with people who are much older and much less active. “It wasn’t until about 2008 where things really started to change. He needed help in the bathroom, getting dressed, and he developed sort of a mask face. He wouldn’t smile at all,”. According to George, his father’s regression didn’t happen right away, “He lived with this for 12 long years. He didn’t one day just stop being able to talk in full sentences. It was a very good thing for all of us, but at the same time very difficult emotionally,”. One of the shared activities that George did with his father was sing in the choir with him. Even though he wasn’t able to talk to consult the music as well as he used to be able to, he would remember what they were supposed to be singing and did this for years after his diagnosis, until one day he said he couldn’t do it anymore. Music was very much a part of their shared experience after his illness. “One of our favorite activities to do after his diagnosis was drive in the car together and listen to music. I would make him playlists of songs that I thought he would like, and he would listen. He wouldn’t say much but I could always tell when it was registering,”.

Since the American Music Therapy Association was founded in 1998, it has been used in countless nursing homes in an effort to improve the quality of life for those who may need it. The long goodbye, that is watching a loved one pass, is made better with music therapy because it gives these people oppor- tunities to remember what their life once was. For the those caring for the sick, it lets them see that they aren’t so empty, that there really is hope.