Posts Tagged ‘music therapy’

Glen Campbell, The Grammy Awards and Alzheimer’s

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

By Stephen Woodfin

I tuned in to see Glen Campbell receive a lifetime achievement award on the Grammys Sunday evening. I did not know I was about to witness a phenomenon scientists who study Alzheimer’s are struggling to understand.

The Country Music Association (CMA) bestowed a similar honor on Campbell a few months ago, but the Grammys handled the situation differently, they let Campbell perform.

After The Band Perry’s rendition of Gentle on My Mind and Blake Shelton’s version of Southern Nights (two of Campbell’s biggest hits), the camera caught Campbell as he marched on stage, microphone in hand.

The band struck up Rhinestone Cowboy, and Glen Campbell was back, back from Alzheimer’s.
He connected with the crowd, cut up in his inimitable style, sang all the verses in his classic delivery.

When the music died, and the lights dimmed, before the sound crew killed his mike, the crowd heard Campbell’s voice.  “Where do I go? Or do I just need to quit talking?” He was still under the spell of the music, wandering slowly back to the netherworld where he now spends his time.

I don’t know what a day in Glen Campbell’s life is like. But from watching my mother’s ten-year struggle with Alzheimer’s I think have a pretty good idea.  The person with Alzheimer’s slides down a slippery slope, growing a little worse every day, forgetting a few more precious things.  Cogent moments come less frequently, then not at all.

What scientists yet do not understand is how music breaks the progression of the disease, enabling a person to step outside it, if only for a matter of minutes.

Sunday night was about the music, one of the few things that can break the iron grip of Alzheimer’s.  Research is just now catching up to what many caregivers already know.  If they want to see the light return to the eyes of their loved one who has Alzheimer’s, they turn up the music.

Around the country, doctors and therapists have begun to experiment with art and music in the treatment of their patients with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. At Cognitive Dynamics Foundation in Tuscaloosa, AL, Daniel Potts, M.D., and his wife Ellen Woodward Potts, co-authors of A Pocket Guide for the Alzheimer’s Caregiver, use art therapy to draw out the inner person who still resides within a person with Alzheimer’s.  Dr. Potts’ father became an accomplished water-color artist after his diagnosis with AD.  In Rochester, NY, G. Allen Power, M.D., plays guitar and leads sing-a-longs for Alzheimer’s groups to accomplish the same thing.

Campbell’s performance last night was an opportunity for audiences around the world to catch the vision of the freeing power of music. Note that I didn’t say the healing power of music. There are settings where music helps heal a person. Alzheimer’s is not one of those.  Rather, music can offer a person with Alzheimer’s a brief parole from his prison, a temporary respite. When the last chord fades, the person must take the bus back to the penitentiary.

In recent days, I have seen several reports about drugs that give great promise towards a cure for Alzheimer’s.  My heart leaps each time I hear such a report, but the truth of the matter is that a cure is still a long-time coming, and it won’t result from one lone medical breakthrough. Because Alzheimer’s is not a one-size-fits-all disease, researchers will not find a silver bullet.  One remedy will work for a particular group of persons with the disease, but not for another. It will take a concerted world-wide effort to beat Alzheimer’s.  I hope I live to see the day when it is relegated to the ash heap of history.

Meanwhile, I will treasure moments like Sunday night, when for just a few moments, for the time it took to sing a song, Glen Campbell, a person with Alzheimer’s, was able to rise above the disease and strut his stuff.

(Stephen Woodfin, an attorney/author, blogs about Alzheimer’s disease and other things on Venture Galleries, and is the author of THE SICKLE’S COMPASS, A STORY OF LOVE, WAR AND ALZHEIMER’S)

A Road Trip with the Irish Tenors

Thursday, January 12th, 2012

Guest blogger:  Stephen Woodfin, Venture Galleries

When my mom was mid-stage AD, I often got this call from one of her caregivers: “She’s mad, and we can’t do anything with her.”

I knew that meant I needed to get to my mom’s house as quickly as I could. My mother loved being in motion.  The worst thing for her was to feel trapped, to have the sense that she couldn’t get in her car and go for a ride.  We had already disabled her vehicle for fear that she would drive off and not know how to get back.

One of the techniques I often used was to serve as her chauffeur. I would take her by the hand, lead her to my car, and we would head out to wherever the road took us. We would ride by familiar places, the house where she grew up, the schools she attended, the church where she spent so much of her free time.

On one such occasion, I popped a recording of the Irish Tenors into the CD player to serve as a soundtrack for our journey.  When “Danny Boy” came on, my mom, who hardly knew her name by that stage of AD, began to sing and hum along.  For an hour or so, the AD world disappeared, and we were just a mother and son out for a ride in the country.  We held hands and I could feel her grip as it pulsed with the music.  Her mood transformed from fear and hostility to light-heartedness. We had reached a place beyond words, a beatific spot of blessedness.

I will never be able to listen to the Irish Tenors again without remembering that moment, and the look on my mother’s face as the remarkable strains of music freed her from the shackles of Alzheimer’s, if only for a few minutes. If you can, try it with your loved one, too.  Miracles are few and far between, but they still happen when you least expect.

How Do You Connect?

Saturday, August 6th, 2011

As dementia progresses, it becomes more and more difficult to connect with our loved ones. I often get questions about this from caregivers, friends and family alike. As time goes on, this inability to connect causes family and friends to visit less frequently, leaving the person with dementia and the caregiver socially isolated at a time when they need the most support.

How can you connect with a person with dementia? Often, the creative arts are the key. Don’t stop reading! You don’t have to be an artist, musician or have any type talent at all to employ these therapies! They’re very simple and easy to use.

Music: People with dementia usually remember things from the distant past, so choose your songs accordingly. What music did the person listen to in their late teens and twenties? If you don’t know, google “top forty songs” and put in the year when the person would have been 18 or 20 years old. You will get a list of what was popular at the time. Play and sing along with these songs, and you may be amazed at what happens. If nothing happens, keep trying! This process takes time. Additionally, if the person is religious or was in their childhood, try singing and playing the hymns of their youth. At a point when my father-in-law with Alzheimer’s disease had not spoken in several months and was in an in-patient hospice unit, we began singing familiar hymns. Amazingly, he could sing along! This is a relatively common experience. There is an excellent video from available on Youtube, Gladys Wilson and Naomi Feil , that gives an example of this. Music can help bridge the communication gap with people in any stage of dementia.

Art: Lester Potts, a rural Alabama sawmiller, was the quintessential child of the Great Depression: he was all about work. He would have considered painting pictures (for himself) wasted time. As Alzheimer’s disease stole more and more of his cognitive ability, he began attending a dementia daycare center where a retired artist volunteered his time. The results were astounding. At a point when he could no longer hammer a nail or change a light bulb, he became a watercolor artist, although he had never painted before. Even in late stage Alzheimer’s disease when he had lost the ability to speak, he could paint visual images of his childhood. (To see a short documentary film, go to Painting in Twilight, An Artist\’s Escape from Alzheimer\’s Disease). To do this at home, start with some very simple artist’s supplies, not children’s crayons and coloring books. You can buy the “Paint by Number” kits or just let the person paint whatever she wants.

Dance: I heard a story a few days ago about a woman who had been a dancer in her youth, but now had dementia. She lived in a facility and used to twirl down the halls. Most of us danced in our youth, either at school dances or as part of a hobby. If your loved one is still able to walk, play music from their heyday and dance! If the person is not able to walk, the “dancing” does not have to involve their legs. Let them move their arms to the music or take their hands in yours and pretend to dance.

Bibliotherapy: This is a fancy word for an easy concept — reading familiar things. Think of the poetry or the stories the person might have memorized or read in their youth. If the person was religious, think about familiar scriptures. Make certain to read the passages from the version the person would have read in their youth, not a more modern version.

Expressive arts therapies have been clinically proven to improve mood and behavior apart from medication, and they have no known negative side effects. Even in the mainstream medical community, the value of these therapies is being touted. (The upcoming medical textbook, Geriatric Neurology, to be published later this year by Prentice Hall has an entire chapter on the benefits of expressive arts therapies.) More importantly, the expressive arts offer caregivers, family and friends alike the ability to connect with people who often are considered to be beyond our ability to reach them. Remember, the goal is not the quality of the product or the performance, but connecting with your loved one in ways that are not possible otherwise. If you are diligent in using these techniques, amazing things can happen.

Music and Dementia

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

I will begin with a disclaimer:  I am not a music therapist.  Music therapy is the science by which trained, board certified individuals use music to assess the patient cognitively and in other ways, and engage the patient’s brain.  Yes, they sing and play instruments, but that, in and of itself, is not music therapy.  A discussion of the science behind it can wait for another day.  What I want to write about are the effects of music on those with dementia from the viewpoint of the layperson and the things you can do at home which will help engage your loved one.

The brain is an odd thing.  You would think that singing and speaking would be located in the same general area, that an inability to speak also would indicate an inability to sing.  Not so.  My father-in-law had not spoken in several months when he went to an in-patient hospice unit.  However, when we would sing the hymns of his childhood, he could join in.  If you can find the songs that are most familiar — religious songs if the person is religious (or was religious in her childhood) and / or songs from the person’s teens and early 20’s — these can often “awaken” those whom nothing else seems to reach.

I encourage you to watch a wonderful video on YouTube at where Naomi Feil interacts with Gladys Wilson, a lady with late stage Alzheimer’s disease.  Mrs. Wilson represents every non-verbal, late stage Alzheimer’s patient we’ve passed in the halls of nursing homes everywhere, thinking these people were beyond human interaction, beyond help.  The results are amazing and humbling.  Mrs. Wilson is still there.  Naomi Feil is able to reach her through the music Mrs. Wilson sang all her life, in this case the religious songs of her childhood.

Concert pianist Don Irwin, who often plays in nursing homes and assisted living units as a public service, speaks about his experiences.  The first time he played for those with dementia, Mr. Irwin wondered if the people would even know he was there.  However, they “awakened” after about 30 minutes of familiar music, some of them even standing up to dance!  He has continued to have this experience wherever he plays.

There are all kinds of medical benefits to music therapy which I am not qualified to discuss — mood elevation, calming of behavior, lowering blood pressure and heart rate, etc.  For those of us who just want to reconnect with a loved one, try the songs he has loved since childhood or those she danced to as a teenager or young adult.  You may be amazed at the results.