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College Students Volunteer to Give the Gift of Music to People with Alzheimer's Dementia

The impact of music on the brain, for those with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) has been studied quite extensively, as medical experts aim to identify as many Alzheimer’s prevention measures as possible. 

Music has been found to calm the brain and help the listener focus better, while staying in the moment.  For people with AD, listening to familiar songs has been found to stimulate deep emotional recall—even for those in the advanced stages of AD dementia.

When personalized music (that which is familiar to a person) was played to people with dementia in nursing homes, it was found to improve mood, increase physical activity, and even to reduce the need for medications (such as antipsychotic medicine).

College Students and Dementia Patients

Students across the country are getting involved in programs that help people with dementia get exposed to music.  One such student is Emily Damore, age 19, of Massachusetts. 

Emily volunteered for a program to help elderly people through Centers of America’s (LCCA) Soundtrack of Life Program.  The experience is said to have made an impact on her appreciation for music, as well as her overall perspective on life. 

“Every time I plug in my earphones, and I walk across campus while listening to my favorite song, I am just like, “Wow, this one song, that I am listening to at this moment, could be a song that gives me one moment of clarity,” said Emily.

Ms. Damore is an interdisciplinary and music, double major at Stonehill College, with plans to be a music therapist.  She’s one of 16 students from her college who volunteer to help people through the “Soundtrack for Life” program, for people with Alzheimer’s dementia.

The students receive 4 hours of training on how to work with people who have AD and other types of dementia, as well as various diseases that impact memory and mental function.

The Partnership
The partnership between Stonehill College and LCCA was set up over a year ago by Lisa Redpath, an associate professor at the college.  Lisa had a personal experience with Alzheimers disease, when her mother—diagnosed with AD—received the benefit of music before she passed away.  Redpath said, “The music part of the brain is the last to be touched by dementia and If we can light up that part of the brain, it can help them to become significantly more communicative.”

The student volunteers work with the patients to create the playlists, specific to each person with dementia.  Then the students record the response to listening for 30 minutes, and up to an hour.  The music is said to change the person’s mood, improve communication and more.  “During that period of time, a lot of symptoms regress back,” said Damore.  “You can almost see this dawn in their eyes when they remember who they are again. That is beautiful to see.”

“Every minute we give is a minute of changed life for somebody,” said Redpath. We’re giving the patient the opportunity and ability to tap into the brain’s elasticity, through musical memories, to recall things. That is a huge gift. That is our gift.”

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