Saturday, July 26, 2014

"Alive Inside": A group called "Music and Memory" promotes the use of music delivered by iPod to awaken people with dementia and Alzheimer's

Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory”, directed by Michael Rossato-Bennett, presents the opportunity to help people with dementia and memory loss with recorded music, which they listen to through earphones from iPods.
The film focuses on the organization “Music and Memory” (or “Music & Memory”, link as trademarked), founded by Dan Cohen, which works mostly with nursing homes and assisted living centers to provide the music therapy.  To help a particular patient, one must first find out something about the person’s past, from family members if possible, and then select music that the person is likely to respond to.  People often become much more alert and responsive during the music.

The areas of the brain that facilitate music are “deep” and among the last to be affected specifically by Alzheimer’s. 

The film presented several patients (many of them at a nursing home in Stony Brook, Long Island). Some of them seemed “child like”.  I would be hard for an introverted person like me to want to communicate with them.  One was a WWII veteran (he would have to be about 88), who had been exposed to radiation during the atomic bomb tests during the Manhattan Project (one test is shown) and who lost all his hair as a result.  Another was a much younger man with multiple sclerosis (which affects women more frequently than men, generally).

It’s common for assisted living centers to hire musicians and entertainers to give shows, which provides social activities for residents.  But “Music and Memory” therapy is personalized and is normally experienced in a private space.  But both processes could offer opportunities for income for musicians.
Some nursing homes may fear legal issues with copyright.  The way the iTunes license works is that once the 99 cents is paid for a copy of a song, it may be copied on multiple iPods for all the patients in a particular place.
The film did present the problem of population demographics.  As the population ages, more people have dementia, and probably about 70% will be women, because women live longer than men.  Dementia increases because medicine can prevent people from dying of other things (cancer and heart disease) for more years, so a moral test of the value of human life is created.  People have fewer children than they used to have, for a variety of reasons, including the economy and personal individualistic values.  The result is that the practical burden of caring for people with dementia (including Alzheimer’s) increases rapidly.   This is not a problem that we, as a society, were particularly aware of until 10-15 years ago.  Nursing homes did not exist until after WWII, and then exploded as an industry.  About half of all patients in them have no visitors.
The music presented in the film was interesting. It included material from “Jersey Boys” and Frankie Valli (Yesterday’s review), as well as the Haydn Piano Sonata #53 in E Minor, which a former piano teacher enjoys in the movie. (She also enjoys the opening of the Rachmaninoff "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini", without the 18th Variation.)  I actually sightread this piece about the time of my junior year in high school.

The official site is here (Bond-360 as distributor).  It would be logical to ask if PBS (POV) or CNN Films would pick these up for showing on television. 

I saw the 75-minute film at Landmark E Street Cinema in Washington DC.  There was an extensive “Q and A” with both Rossato-Bennett and Cohen.  A few members of the audience became emotional.  One question pointed out that this could not work without tremendous volunteer effort with labor hours from individuals, probably arranged through faith-based groups. 

On the other hand, if the therapy is shown to work “medically”, there could be justification for hiring people to work in the music therapy area, and sometimes justification for insurance reimbursement.
The pamphlet requests some rather specific efforts from potential volunteers, including promoting iPod donation drives, initiating a school service project, becoming an “ambassador”, or managing an online fundraiser.  (I didn’t see any mention of Kickstarter in the credits for the film.)   I don’t like to be “recruited” or to gather people for specific causes (least of all, for politicians), but there are circumstances where a project like this can create synergy with other things that I do. 
I do have a large vinyl classical record collection and CD collection.  It would be possible to search for specific items to put on the iPod, when provided a list.  A late friend had an even bigger collection, under the control of an estate trustee, and I think that the recordings are in the Fall Church and Fairfax County  (VA) public school systems somewhere.    Again, his library was so complete that it would be possible to find almost anything.

My own mother died at age 97 in Capital Hospice in Arlington VA in December 2010.  The last music that she heard was the Schumann Symphony #2 through the intercom.
 A correlated project would be Maria Shriver's "The Alzheimer's Project", on the TV Blog May 10, 2009.  On this blog, particularly relevant are "Nebraska" (Nov. 23, 2013) and "Gen Silent" (Aug. 26, 2013), about LGBT eldercare. Sept. 24, 2012.    

Update: July 28

An obvious question is whether musicians would be less likely to develop dementia or Alzheimer's.  Hopefully that's true, but composer Aaron Copland had some dementia symptoms in his 70s, even though he could conduct "Appalachian Spring' his whole lofe.  PBS covered this in it's American Experience film "The Forgetting", link. I'll have to check whether I've actually seen this program -- it rings a bell.  

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