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Summary: Could music be a medicine in treating dementia patients? A new project entitled “IPod and Brain Project” was presented by geriatric psychiatrist Dr. Susan Wehry in honour of National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month (November 2010). Based on work by Dan Cohen and Ann Wyatt of the nonprofit organization Music and Memory, and research from Concetta M. Monaino, director of the Institute or Music and Neurologic Function, the project’s aim is to make music available to dementia patients, to help them reconnect with their loved ones and to enrich their lives. The goal is not to simply provide music to these patients, but rather to provide a personalized playlist of songs specifically tailored to a patient’s life. Whery’s claim is that recognition of a song attaches some bibliographical information to it. Neuroscience research, through brains scans, revealed that activity takes place throughout a person’s brain when they listen to a song they recognize. With this in mind, music could be a means to help unloosen the barriers imposed by the Alzheimer’s disease. In Alzheimer, the disease does not strike all areas of the brain at once; actually one of the last areas to be affected is the prefrontal cortex, which guides listening, language and movement. The goal of the “IPod and Brain Project” was to create a playlist of music for dementia patients in which every song they hear is one of their favourites. The result was that exposure to personalized music helped patients improve attention, aid recall, reduce agitation; overall decrease depression. Most evocative seems to be music from a person’s teen and early adult years. If the musical taste of a patient is unknown, Wehry said to begin with popular music from when the person was between 13 and 25 years of age and analyze their reaction to the music.
Response: This article touched me. One of my loved ones has suffered in her last years of life from Alzheimer’s disease. I know how tragic and difficult it is to reconnect with Alzheimer’s patients; nothing seems to work and it is heartbreaking to see them slowly dissipate. I wish we would have tried to help her with music. There has always been music in our house, but we have never tried to personalize it to her preferences. I think this “IPod and Brain Project” and the underlying research is valid. It may not work for everyone, but it may for some. The brain is a mechanism so complex which we have not yet been able to fully understand. It seems that trial and error is all we have in trying to master it; but because music has the ability to affect us on so many levels: cognitive, emotional, spiritual, as well as physical, I believe music may be able to help trigger memories and reconnect dementia patients with the world they live in; even if only for short periods of time, I think it is worthwhile.