How Does Music Connect With the Brain?

I’ve watched in wonder as music changes people — kids, adults, people who are ill, elders, and caregivers. Of course, the movie Alive Inside visually documents how music can affect people, even those with substantial memory loss. But what exactly is happening in the brain?

In the process of wondering, I came across an excellent video from TedEd (where cool lessons and videos reside). It explains  how the brain processes music when a person listens and how even more complex activity occurs when an individual actually plays an instrument.

Check it out below. 

The Alive Inside Documentary Is Now Available at iTunes

Screen Shot 2014-11-24 at 8.38.01 PMLast summer my husband and I saw the documentary Alive Inside, and we were amazed at the power of music. Well actually we already knew a fair amount the power of music, but seeing people with advanced dementia become more articulate and communicative — and even feel better — made us realize how powerfully music can relieve at least some of the symptoms of severe health problems.

I wrote a post after seeing the movie, Alive Inside: This Movie is Extraordinary! Please check out my review.

Now the documentary is available at iTunes$14.99 to purchase or $4.99 to rent. This is an extraordinary movie that should be shared with adult children, their families, and friends, whether or not a close family member suffers from dementia or Alzheimer’s, so please check it, out and then share your thoughts with others, here on AsOurParentsAge, or on other blogs.

Alive Inside: This Movie Is Extraordinary!

ec9acd50595499364a6994542e145924_largeYou know a movie speaks to the audience when people just sit there as the credits start to roll rather than getting up and moving out. That’s what happened this evening when my husband and I went to see Alive Inside, the Sundance award-winning documentary about the role that music plays in the lives of elderly people who experience brain disease and loneliness. At first, no one got up to leave.

The other day I described how we watched a preview of Alive Inside at one of Dr. Bill Thomas’ Second Wind events last March and how we were moved to tears. That only begins to describe the reactions in the movie theatre tonight. The people in front of me were tearful and talking about a relative. The young people behind me were sniffling and whispering about their grandmother. I was thinking about my family members.

As I looked around, I observed individuals with hands on their faces, hands folded in prayer, and people with eyes riveted to the screen as we all watched person after person, mostly elders, smile, move, talk, remember, and transform — as the music played. We saw exuberance, animation, even joy come on to faces that, only moments before were vacant.

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Alive Inside: Music Brings Back Memories and Dignity

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Note: If after reading this post you are interested in seeing the movie, please check out my Alive Inside movie review.

I discovered Alive Inside, the Sundance award-winning documentary film that demonstrates the power that music can exercise over memory loss, a few months ago when my husband and I shared an amazing experience attending the Second Wind Tour. This nationwide  extravaganza that travelled over the country helped Dr. Bill Thomas to launch Second Wind, his new book about aging and the importance of living in deeper and more thoughtful ways, included a partial screening of Alive Inside (check out the trailer below), and I left the event in greater awe of music than ever before. That’s saying a lot because I’m a lifelong musician.

Alive Inside

Find a way to see the movie!

Alive Inside, Michael Rossato-Bennett’s documentary film, tells the story of a man’s determination to try a new kind of therapy with patients experiencing severe memory loss. Dan Cohen gives iPods personalized with music to people with severe memory impairment, and then watches how they listen and respond.The results, you see them right there on the screen, are astonishing.

The fragile people, mostly elders, listening to the music begin to react, interact, and even talk about experiences that the music reawakens. They associate the music with memories that often come rushing back and often with each individual’s ability to talk about the memories. Cohen pursues his projects against considerable odds — namely a healthcare system that treats aging as a medical problem rather than a time of life. Continue reading

Senior Moment or Alzheimer’s?

As the adult children of aging parents most of us are used to hearing friends and colleagues make the “senior moment” comment. Often when a person over 45 or so has difficulty remembering something, he or she will comment, “…oops, I’m having a senior moment.” I began noticing this in my late 40′s and now, a few years later, it happens at least once a day. I make the comment, too, though I am trying to stop saying it.

Part of this is joking about the normal changes occurring in our brains as we grow older, according to a February 9, 2010 Washington Post article, Memory Lapses Are Common and Increase with Age; When Do They Signal Alzheimer’s? As we get older, our brains become less efficient and we store information less effectively.

My husband's mother would throw her toothbrush into the wastebasket or put it in her sewing box.

My husband’s mother would throw her toothbrush into the wastebasket or put it in her sewing box.

However, now that I have watched the steady decline and eventual death of a family member with dementia I feel my forgetfulness more intensely. As my mother-in-law’s continued experience  more severe dementia symptoms, we found dozens of friends and acquaintances who were experiencing or had experienced the same disease in their families. Just about every person occasionally worried about the potential for dementia in the future. When my husband and I had a moment to think about ourselves during that time, and it was not that often, we wondered how we might prevent dementia from occurring in our lives. It doesn’t feel like a joke that the senior moment comment implies.           Continue reading

Should Physicians Ask Fragile Elders About Guns in Their Homes?

Some time ago I read a newspaper article written by an elderly man who was caring for his wife, who had Alzheimer’s disease. He was doing much of her care at home, and his article spoke of their history, how they had met, his family, and much more about their life together. He was sad but upbeat. A few months later, in the same paper I read an obituary for that man who had shot his wife and committed suicide.

The two articles, juxtaposed, made me feel great sadness. It drove home to me just how helpless and depressed people become — especially those who had great control over their lives — when confronted by a family member who has one of the dementia brain diseases.

The July 9, 2013 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine features a journal commentary, Geriatric Patients, Firearms, and Physicians, recommending that physicians evaluate an elder’s firearms risk just like they evaluate other risks such as driving and living alone. The author, Marshall B. Kapp, JD, MPH, points out that the “use of firearms, has become the most common suicide method for both geriatric men and women.”

The Recommendations in the Article?                Continue reading