A not-for-profit group is trying to encourage more nursing homes to use music therapy for people who have Alzheimer's disease, as their research shows individualized music can make quite a difference in how seniors behave. NY1's Cheryl Wills filed the following report.
Elaine Gay has a challenging job. She provides stimulating activities for patients with mid-to-late stage Alzheimer's Disease at Cobble Hill Health Center in Brooklyn. She readily admits that it's tough to get seniors with dementia to respond. That is, until she gives them an iPod loaded with their favorite music.
"It changes their mood," she says. "It changes the way that they might feel."
The health center participates in a program called "Music and Memory," where staffers are given instructions on how to provide Alzheimer's patients like Alfred with their favorite songs.
"He's restless at times and the music tends to give him something else to focus on," Gay says.
Those behind the music and memory program say it's not just a gimmick. They say there's real science behind it.
"Actually, it does work, regardless of how advanced dementia is," says Dan Cohen, the program's executive director. "Music memory never dies. It's deeply embedded in our neural networks and even though the brain has been ravaged to some degree, somehow, music escapes that."
Staff members say Alzheimer's patients like Jean relax quickly when she hears her favorite Motown hits.
"The hardest part of this program is to learn what music someone really likes," Cohen says. "Someone may not be able to articulate the songs that they loved and so the staff goes to their families or friends and visitors and asks 'What was it that they listened to when they were young?'"
Fifteen nursing homes in New York City and some 35 nationally participate in the music and memory program. The not-for-profit organization is making a public appeal for more people to donate iPods. They need them by the thousands because the program is getting popular.
"Research that's been done demonstrates personalized music will drastically reduce agitation, will help people be more themselves," Cohen says.
To learn more on how you can donate an iPod, new or used, visit musicandmemory.org.