November 17th, 2009
Did you know that music therapy can drastically improve the mental capacity of Alzheimer’s patients?
Reports the Wall Street Journal:
One of the raps on iPods is that users tend to close themselves off from other people and retreat into their own private world.
But with stroke and dementia patients, iPods and other MP3 players are having just the opposite effect.
Listening to rap and reggae on a borrowed iPod every day has helped Everett Dixon, a 28-year-old stroke victim at Beth Abraham Health Services in Bronx, N.Y., learn to walk and use his hands again.
Trevor Gibbons, 52, who fell out of a fourth-floor construction site and suffered a crushed larynx, has become so entranced with music that he’s written 400 songs and cut four CDs.
Ann Povodator, an 85-year-old Alzheimer’s patient in Boynton Beach, Fla., listens to her beloved opera and Yiddish songs every day on an iPod with her home health aide or her daughter when she comes to visit. “We listen for at least a half-hour, and we talk afterwards,” says her daughter, Marilyn Povodator. “It seems to touch something deep within her.”
Caregivers have observed for decades that Alzheimer’s patients can still remember and sing songs long after they’ve stopped recognizing names and faces. Many hospitals and nursing homes use music as recreation, since it brings patients pleasure. But beyond the entertainment value, there’s growing evidence that listening to music can also help stimulate seemingly lost memories and even help restore some cognitive function.
“What I believe is happening is that by engaging very basic mechanisms of emotions and listening, music is stimulating dormant areas of the brain that haven’t been accessible due to degenerative disease,” says Concetta Tomaino, executive director of the Institute for Music and Neurologic Function, a nonprofit organization founded at Beth Abraham in 1995.
Dr. Tomaino, who has studied the therapeutic effects of music for more than 30 years, is spearheading a new program to provide iPods loaded with customized playlists to help spread the benefits of music therapy to Alzheimer’s patients even at home. “If someone loved opera or classical or jazz or religious music, or if they sang and danced when the family got together, we can recreate that music and help them relive those experiences,” she says.
Dr. Tomaino says she frequently sees dementia patients make gains in cognitive function after music therapy. In one unpublished study she led a few years ago, with funding from the New York State Department of Health, 45 patients with mid- to late-stage dementia had one hour of personalized music therapy, three times a week, for 10 months, and improved their scores on a cognitive-function test by 50% on average. One patient in the study recognized his wife for the first time in months.
Find out more at the WSJ.