iPod’s can help Alzheimer’s patients remember

Today I offer you this outstanding article from Dr. Concetta M. Tomaino

It’s a diagnosis that we dread, both for our loved ones and ourselves: Alzheimer’s disease. Although at first glance, it may seem that the disease has robbed a person of their sense of self, this is not always the case. Not all people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia entirely lose their sense of self. The feelings, emotions and memories of experiences that make them who they are may still reside inside of them. It’s their ability to access this sense of self that now becomes the challenge.

At the Institute for Music and Neurologic Function (IMNF), technology is playing a key role in helping people with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia reconnect to their memories and their loved ones, if only for immediate and short periods of time.

Based on more than 30 years of studying the effects of music on the human condition, the IMNF has developed a program to bring therapeutic music to a loved one through an iPod music player. The program is called “Well-Tuned: Music Players for Health,” and its ability to give loved ones an opportunity to connect with a parent, a spouse, a sibling or a friend, is music to a caregiver’s ears. (IMNF works in collaboration with Music and Memory, an organization that encourages the use of personalized music on digital music players, with funding from the Shelly and Donald Rubin Foundation.)

Through the “Well-Tuned” program, an IMNF professional will work with caregivers to develop a play list of music that is emotionally significant to the person with dementia. The play list is customized based on the elder’s life experiences, cultural backgrounds and frame of reference. As with lovers who grow sentimental when “their song” is played on the radio, the right music stimulates the personal associations that it is connected with, sparking memory and renewed “presence.” It is best to select music that is familiar, enjoyable and meaningful to the elder with dementia.

How iPod music helps Alzheimer’s patients with memory:

Caregivers can also enhance the impact of the music with meaningful photos of family, friends and experiences and talk about past memories and events. Often, the music can spark memories that were thought to be long gone, or stimulate recognition of a loved one that moments earlier was no more than a blank face.

Music may also help a person with dementia transition more easily throughout the day. Caregivers can play lively, upbeat music for their loved ones as a stimulus to help motivate them to take a walk or participate in an activity. Alternatively, they can play slower, more calming music to relax their loved one when they are agitated or help them wind down as bedtime approaches.

The science behind the “Well-Tuned” program has to do with the emotional connections we make to music throughout our life and where in the brain those connections live. Music stimulates the areas of the brain that are involved in emotion, association and long-term memory processes for people with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. As a result, musical selections that are linked to emotions and personal experiences can unlock memories and associations.

The “Well-Tuned” program has been adapted by healthcare professionals at long-term residential facilities, adult day care centers, in-home care programs and assisted living environments across the country.

For caregivers who want to organize a “Well-Tuned” program for their loved ones, the return is priceless if they once again see the light of recognition in a loved one’s eyes.

About Sue Salach

Sue has a Master's degree in Gerontology and has worked with the elderly and their families for over 30 years and is the Author of "Along Comes Grandpa", a caregiving resource guide, and the novel "If I Walked in Her Shoes". As an ElderCare Expert and Keynote Speaker, Sue employs her comprehensive experience and passion, to educate and promote self-care values to family caregivers and the community at large.
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