The Unforgettables: More on Music, the Brain & Dementia

Check out this delightful TV video about The Unforgettables — a chorus in New York City that includes people with dementia — that includes an interview with a physician who is conducting research about music and the brain.

Music, the Brain, Aging, and Memory Diseases

Jack Horner leads singing as Mickey McInnish plays keyboards during the Side by Side Singers practice at First United Methodist Church in Montgomery, Ala. on Tuesday October 27, 2015. The choir is made up of people with dementia, their family members and volunteers at the Respite Ministry at the church.

Jack Horner leads singing as Mickey McInnish plays keyboards during the Side by Side Singers practice at First United Methodist Church in Montgomery, Ala. on Tuesday October 27, 2015.

We live with music throughout our lives — it surrounds people no matter what their age. Children, of course, love to sing at almost as soon as they are born, but music, even for those who are not musicians, is a part of the air people breathe. Interestingly, music appears to become even more important as people age and contributes to a higher quality in life in the elder years.

No one these days disputes that music can bring happiness, joy, peace, energy, and even some sort of healing to people of every age. Increasingly, however, we are learning that for fragile elders, music not only brings joy but also rekindles memories. So why doesn’t every community of older adults have a musician on staff or at least a musician in residence who can lead a chorus, a sing-along or hymn sing? I believe that organized music programs, and not just performances that people watch, belong in every community of aging adults.

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An Image as a Metaphor for Dementia

alz.quiltWatching a much-loved family member’s gradual memory decline brings with it great sadness. We observe vast amounts of knowledge and personal connection — the inner light of an individual — disconnecting and disappearing.

Recently I spent a morning looking at an amazing quilt exhibit at Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community (VMRC).

The quilter, Anne Miller, created exquisite patterns, and images, and I walked up and down the hallway looking at them over and over. One quilt especially caught my attention created in response to the her husband’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis. I snapped a picture of it — I was so moved by its light and color shooting out in all directions — and I wrote to Anne Miller asking if I might use my picture here on

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Music that Heals the Soul

Music by itself cannot heal a disease. No one these days, however, disputes that music can heal the soul, making illness more bearable.

Some time ago I wrote about Alive Inside, a movie that documents the success of therapeutic music programs with elderly participants who have dementia of Alzheimers. The program, started by Dan Cohen, pairs a patient with an iPod music player that contains recording of favorite music from a person’s life. Check out this video clip from the documentary.

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So 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.