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Music & Memory: Alzheimer's Therapy

Dr. Brown with Music & Memory

The founder of Music & Memory, Dan Cohen, created the program with the intent of listening to his favorite songs if he were ever placed in a nursing home. That is exactly what the program does. Music and Memory uses iPods with personalized playlists to reconnect anyone struggling with Alzheimer’s or a different type of dementia with their memories. Facility staff’s, elder care professionals, as well as family caregivers are trained on how to create playlists with the aim of providing personalized experiences in therapeutic music. Right at Home East Atlanta’s Music & Memory program is headed by Dr. Nicole Ross. Dr. Ross, oversees the program noting the effects of the music reducing the reliance of anti-psychotic and anti-anxiety medications needed, as well as behavior changes promoting more family and friend engagement without agitation. The program also connects with Newton College and Career Academy allowing students in the audio and visual department to get involved with the program. The students are encouraged to help with iPod technical help and the migrating of playlists.

How It Works

The early stages of Alzheimer’s strains the inner parts of the brain, restricting the ability to create new memories. What this looks like in practice is repeating conversations, forgetting where items are placed, and struggling to grasp new activities. As Alzheimer’s progresses the brain’s ability to form words, and other motor skills become impaired. It is easy for people to become aggressive, upset, and agitated at this point. High levels of confusion, and inability to understand what is happening creates a lack of confidence and uncertainty and sometimes creates a sense of clinginess. More support in daily activities is helpful, even if the help is simply reminders such as when to eat, getting dressed appropriately, and how to use the toilet are common helps. The late stages of Alzheimer’s robs people of their knowledge of deeply held memories. Familiar objects and people become strangers. Physically the Alzheimer’s continues to eat away at memory and motor function. Assistance eating, and loss of speech are typical, as well as incontinence are symptoms of late stages of Alzheimer’s.

How It Helps

Here is how music helps. The human brain is made to connect memories with music. Music is tied to numerous parts of the brain including: memory creation, simple memory recall, deep memory recall, motor function, visualization. In relation to Alzheimer’s music is connected to creating new memories, motor function, and for the deeply held songs we all have music is tied to life defining memories. Music and Memory takes advantage of all these aspects. Music engages our minds on a basic level by recognizing things like rhythm, beat, and melody. By recognizing the basics of music our minds are able to create memories, and open pathways to recognizing older ones. The addition of words in a song produces another level of engagement with our minds. The basics of music, the beat, and rhythms produce memory recall of words that correlate with the song prompting our minds to understand, and even visualization of what a song is portraying. Words engage a separate part of the brain associating definitions, and understanding the meaning of songs acting as a support for speech. Music engages the motor skills as we sing and move along to the beat. By stimulating the areas of the mind that Alzheimer’s progresses through, music is able to slow the progression, and even bring people back for brief moments when deep memories are engaged.

Music & Memory In Action


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