Feb 132013
 
music notes

Celebrating the Grammy Awards earlier this week brought to mind the power of music to heal us.  Numerous studies have shown the therapeutic effects of music for those with everything from Alzheimer’s disease to autism.

Anecdotally, Kim Campbell, who is now caregiver to her husband, country music icon Glen Campbell (who was diagnosed last year with Alzheimer’s), has said in several interviews that music has helped her 75-year-old husband continue to do what he loves — perform for live audiences, which he did all last year on his Farewell Tour. And I Alzheimer's Association and Representative Edward Markey join wirecently spoke to music legend and multiple Grammy winner Quincy Jones about his latest passion projects, which include the amazing effects of music as therapy for children with Down Syndrome and older Americans with dementia.

Is music one of the keys to a longer, happier life, despite health issues?

Although music has been with us since the dawn of time, in the last few decades studies have shown that music as a therapeutic tool can increase cognitive function in Alzheimer’s patients, help premature infants gain weight, encourage autistic children to communicate, lead stroke patients to regain speech and mobility, and manage anxiety and depression for psychiatric patients.

Since music is associated with one of the five senses — hearing —which is controlled by the brain, it makes sense we should exercise our brains with music listening to spur cognitive function in the same way we use physical therapy to exercise our limbs, muscles and joints to regain mobility and physical function.

Studies have shown that music reduces agitation or improves behavioral issues such as violent outbursts in dementia patients.  In one pilot program, 45 patients with middle- to late-stage dementia had one hour of personalized music therapy three times a week for 10 months, and improved their scores on a cognitive-function test by 50 percent on average.

And music therapy is not just used with older patients.  When it comes to those children diagnosed on the autism spectrum, music therapy allows these children to develop identification and appropriate expression of their emotions; music becomes the universal language.  Many people with diagnoses on the autism spectrum have innate musical talents so music therapy can provide these kids a sense of accomplishment and success.

When I spoke to Holly Robinson Peete, the successful actress, talk show host and singer, about her son R.J., who was diagnosed at age 3 with autism, she said he loves music and he has even recorded a song.  In fact, Holly finds music a great way for her entire family to connect with R.J. and to enter his world.

She told me, “I think music makes him more comfortable. It is a way for R.J. to communicate without being judged.”

Music – A Cure for Caregiver Chaos

Music as therapy is not just for your loved one.  We know caregivers encounter increased stress over caring for a loved one — in fact caregivers who reported their health was impacted by caring for a loved one cite stress as their No. 1 challenge. Studies show listening to music can lead to increased secretion levels of melatonin, a hormone associated with mood regulation, lower aggression, reduced depression and enhanced sleep.  Using music to cope with these common caregiver complaints can be a welcome relief to caregiver burn-out.

vinyl_record

5-Note Caregiver Music Therapy Program:

  1. Discover the “happy times tunes”: Talk to your loved one about happy times in their life and understand the music associations with that time are essential to their sense of happiness.  Whether it is big band, gospel, rock ‘n’ roll, country, opera or blues, find out what tunes make your parent or spouse smile.  Most older loved ones, especially Alzheimer’s patients who retain long-term memory as opposed to short-term memory, find tunes from their youth the most joyful. But be careful, music also can evoke sad memories.  One Holocaust survivor in a pilot program reportedly became very upset upon hearing a Wagner opera which reminded him of that traumatic era of his life.
  2. Engage younger generations:  You can help create emotional intimacy when spouses and families share creative music experiences.  Whether it is downloading songs from iTunes, creating a Pandora play list or using the latest technical creation for digital music files, engage your kids in interacting with their grandparent or sibling with special needs to choose their favorite music.
  3. Pick the right setting:  It may not be as simple as turning on a radio.  The radio can be distracting with constant advertising that breaks the peace of music.  Instead, try internet radio like Pandora channels, or use an iPod or CD player.  And be careful with headphones: Some may take comfort in the privacy of headphones while others will become irritated or uncomfortable.   Also consider live music situations carefully.  For author Gail Sheehy who wrote about her caregiving journey in Passages in Caregiving, being able to take her husband (who was suffering from cancer) to a last jazz night out on the town was a gift she will always treasure.  But for special needs children and some older adults, the unsettling activity of a live concert or band can be frightening.
  4. Let your music play:  As a caregiver music is your therapy as well. Whether it is creating your own playlist to lift your mood when you have the blues or just taking pleasure in watching your loved one become engaged, music can make your heart soar.  Celia Pomerantz, author of A Mother’s Daughter’s Journey, found that her mother, who grew up in Puerto Rico, loved a certain era of salsa music such as Tito Puente.  She created song lists of her mom’s favorite tunes while her mother was in a nursing home.  Celia became enchanted as her mother blossomed into the woman residents called “the dancing queen.”  The joy of music and watching her mother dance lifted Celia’s spirits about her mother’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis.
  5. Find a professional music therapist:  The American Music Therapy Association (AMTA), a non-profit organization that represents over 5,000 music therapists, corporate members and related associations worldwide, offers information about music therapy studies and a listing of credentialed music therapists.

Music can both evoke and create memories that last forever.  I close with this heartwarming story from the AMTA website:

When a couple danced together for the first time after five years of the husband’s deterioration from probable Alzheimer’s disease, the wife said: “Thank you for helping us dance. It’s the first time in three years that my husband held me in his arms.”

Tearfully, she said that she had missed him just holding her and that music therapy had made that possible.

 This is an excerpt from Sherri Snelling’s book, A Cast of Caregivers – Celebrity Stories to Help You Prepare to Carepublished by Balboa Press on February 13, 2013.

Learn More:

About Blog Author Sherri Snelling

Sherri Snelling, CEO and founder of the Caregiving Club, is a nationally recognized expert on America’s 65 million family caregivers with special emphasis on how to help caregivers balance “self care” while caring for a loved one. She is the former chairman of the National Alliance for Caregiving and is author of A Cast of Caregivers, a book about celebrities who have been caregivers.

 

Feb 242012
 

When Glen Campbell took the stage at the Grammy Awards and accepted his Lifetime Achievement Award, he did so as one of the more than 5 million Americans diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.  What is inspiring about the 75-year-old Campbell’s Grammy night appearance is that he has not retired from his love of making music despite his recent diagnosis.  In fact, he is starting his Farewell Tour and is cutting a new album.

Is music one of the keys to a longer, happier life – despite your health issues?

The news about Campbell got me thinking about studies and articles I have read about music therapy.  Although music has been with us since the dawn of time, in the last few decades studies have found that music as a therapeutic tool can increase cognitive function in Alzheimer’s patients, help premature infants gain weight, encourage autistic children to communicate, lead stroke patients to regain speech and mobility, control pain for dental, surgical and orthopedic patients, and manage anxiety and depression for psychiatric patients.

Dr. Oliver Sacks, a renowned neurologist and psychologist at Columbia University Medical Center best known for his 1973 book Awakenings, which became an Academy Award-nominated film starring Robin Williams and Robert De Niro, and who also wrote Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, testified at the Hearing before the Senate Special Committee on Aging entitled, “Forever Young: Music and Aging,” and issued this statement:

“The power of music is very remarkable… One sees Parkinsonian patients unable to walk, but able to dance perfectly well or patients almost unable to talk, who are able to sing perfectly well… I think that music therapy and music therapists are crucial and indispensable in institutions for elderly people and among neurologically disabled patients.”

The Magic Brain Workout Is Music

Since music is associated with one of the five senses — hearing — which is controlled by the brain it makes sense that we should exercise our brains with music listening to spur cognitive function in the same way we use physical therapy to exercise our limbs, muscles and joints to regain mobility and physical function.

When it comes to Alzheimer’s patients, studies have shown that music reduces agitation or improves behavioral issues such as violent outbursts.  In one pilot program, 45 patients with mid- to late-stage dementia had one hour of personalized music therapy, three times a week, for 10 months, and improved their scores on a cognitive-function test by 50 percent on average. One patient in the study recognized his wife for the first time in months.  Another music therapy study showed that stroke victims can learn to walk and use their hands again.

And, music therapy is not just used with older patients.  When it comes to those children diagnosed on the autism spectrum, music therapy allows these children to develop identification and appropriate expression of their emotions — music becomes the universal language.  Many people with diagnoses on the autism spectrum have innate musical talents so music therapy can give these kids a sense of accomplishment and success.

When I spoke to Holly Robinson Peete, the successful actress, talk show host and singer, about her son R.J. who was diagnosed at age 4 with autism, she said he loves music and he has even recorded a song.  In fact, Holly finds music a great way for her entire family to connect with R.J. and to enter his world.

She told me, “I think music makes him more comfortable — it is a way for R.J. to communicate without being judged.”

Music — Cure for Caregiver Complaints, Too

Music as therapy is not just for your loved one.  We know that caregivers encounter increased stress over caring for a loved one.  Since studies show that listening to music can lead to increased secretion levels of melatonin, a hormone associated with mood regulation, lower aggression, reduced depression and enhanced sleep.  Using music to cope with these common caregiver complaints can be a welcome relief to caregiver burn-out.

How to Use Music in Your Caregiving Plan

Although the 2008 documentary Young @ Heart, showcased a chorus of 80-year-olds singing Beatles, Rolling Stones and Sonic Youth cover songs, most experts agree that with an older loved one it is best to choose music that reminds them of an earlier, happier time in their lives.

  1. Discover the “happy times tunes”:  Talking to your loved one about happy times in their life and understanding the music associations with that time are essential.  Whether it is big band, gospel, rock ‘n’ roll, country, opera or blues, find out what made your loved one happiest.  Most older loved ones, especially Alzheimer’s patients who retain long-term memory as opposed to short-term memory, find tunes from their youth the most joyful but be careful.  Music can also evoke sad memories.  One Holocaust survivor in a pilot program reportedly became very upset upon hearing a Wagner opera which reminded him of that era of his life.
  2. Engage younger generations:  You can help create emotional intimacy when spouses and families share creative music experiences.  Whether it is downloading songs from iTunes, creating a Pandora play list or using the latest technical creation for digital music files, engage your kids in interacting with their grandparent or sibling with special needs to choose their favorite music.
  3. Pick the right setting:  It may not be as simple as turning on a radio.  The radio can be distracting with constant advertising that breaks the peace of music.  Instead, try internet radio like Pandora channels, or use an iPod or CD player.  And, be careful with headphones — some may take comfort in the privacy of headphones while others will become irritated or uncomfortable.   Also, consider live music situations carefully.  For author Gail Sheehy, being able to take her husband, who was suffering from cancer, to a last jazz night out on the town was a gift she will always treasure.  But, for special needs children and some older adults — the unsettling activity of a live concert or band can be frightening.
  4. Let your music play:  As a caregiver music is your therapy as well. Whether it is creating your own playlist to lift your mood when you have a “down day” or just taking pleasure in watching your loved one become engaged, music can make your heart soar.  Celia Pomerantz, author of A Mother’s Daughter’s Journey,  found that her mother, who grew up in Puerto Rico, loved a certain era of salsa music such as Tito Puente.  She created song lists of her mom’s favorite tunes while her mother was in the nursing home.  Celia became enchanted as her mother blossomed into the woman residents called “the dancing queen.”  The joy of music and watching her mother dance lifted Celia’s spirits about her mother’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis.
  5. Find a professional music therapist:  The American Music Therapy Association (AMTA), a non-profit organization that represents over 5,000 music therapists, corporate members and related associations worldwide offers information about music therapy studies and a listing of credentialed music therapists that offer services in institutional, residential and private home settings.

 Music can both evoke and create memories that last forever.  I close with this heartwarming story from the AMTA website:

When a couple danced together for the first time after five years of the husband’s deterioration from probable Alzheimer’s disease, the wife said: “Thank you for helping us dance. It’s the first time in three years that my husband held me in his arms.” Tearfully, she said that she had missed him just holding her and that music therapy had made that possible.

©2012 Sherri Snelling

Learn More:

About Blog Author Sherri Snelling

Sherri Snelling, CEO and founder of the Caregiving Club, is a nationally recognized expert on America’s 65 million family caregivers with special emphasis on how to help caregivers balance “self care” while caring for a loved one. She is the former chairman of the National Alliance for Caregiving and is currently writing a book about celebrities who have been caregivers.


May 092011
 

I hate Bingo.

There, I said it. That popular activity which people of all ages enjoy at local fire halls, senior living communities and kindergarten classrooms across the country is one of my least favorite ways to pass the time.

As a former assisted living activities director, I can tell you that — in my book — the only thing worse than playing Bingo is calling Bingo. Round and round the cage would spin, as I strained to keep my eyes open so that I might read aloud each numbered/lettered ball that rolled down the ramp. (I’m sure it didn’t help that Bingo was usually scheduled at the peak of the midday slump, around 3 p.m.)

Yes, I enjoyed seeing the residents get excited about winning, or fighting about what constitutes postage stamp Bingo, but as I recall, many of them looked as bored as I was.

Here’s the thing: If you didn’t enjoy Bingo when you were a kid, you probably won’t enjoy it as an adult.

Besides, there are so many other fascinating hobbies and engaging activities that it just doesn’t seem fair to resort to Bingo all the time. Yet I would venture to guess that if you were to compare activity calendars for five assisted living facilities in your town, they would all list Bingo at least once.

And what does Bingo have to do with Alzheimer’s, you ask?

Bingo is an activity. Love it or hate it, it’s an activity that some people enjoy whether they have Alzheimer’s or not.  True, Alzheimer’s may limit full enjoyment of the game, but just because a person is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s doesn’t automatically negate all previous interests.

And in the case of interests, hobbies and activity preferences, an Alzheimer’s diagnosis means nothing.

Unfortunately, too many family/professional caregivers feel that an Alzheimer’s diagnosis means everything when it comes to activities, but it doesn’t. Certainly the way the afflicted individuals engage in these activities may change for any number of reasons (medication side effects, lack of sleep, difficulty with language or motor skills, etc.), but the person in your care has not lost all of his or her history or identity. If your Mom enjoyed gardening all her life, why would a diagnosis change that? If Granddad loved watching the World Series and has fond memories of doing so every year since the age of 5, why should he stop?

Alzheimer’s Is About Adaptation

Those living with cognitive impairments — and their caregivers — are constantly adapting to the changes wrought by the disease. Sometimes, those adaptations are subtly applied and integrated into the daily routine; other times, a drastic adjustment is required of both parties. Nevertheless, adaptation is a regular, recurring part of a life with Alzheimer’s.

When planning for and providing meaningful, stimulating activities for those with Alzheimer’s and related dementias, consult the individual’s personal history for clues about favorite pastimes, and use these as the foundation for program/daily routine design. If and when it is necessary, adapt these activities to fit within the framework of the individual’s abilities. Maybe your mom loves to hike but the risk of wandering is too great. Figure out a way that allows her to hike safely without feeling like she’s a child who can’t be trusted. Find a respectful balance that promotes independence while ensuring her well-being.

If your brother enjoys taking beautiful photographs of the birds that come to his backyard feeders, there is no need to let the Alzheimer’s diagnosis take that away too. You may need to help him develop film, you may not. You may need to remind him where the camera is stored when not in use, you may not. Don’t change a thing unless you have to.

Unfortunately, this method is not 100 percent foolproof. Sometimes, the whims of Alzheimer’s disease prevail, wreaking havoc on an individual’s personality/mood, which might mean they lose interest in things that they had enjoyed previously. If the safety of the individual is at risk by participating in certain hobbies or routines, you may need to discontinue or alter them accordingly. My grandfather, an expert woodworker, was bedbound as a result of his Alzheimer’s, so getting him down to tinker in his workshop was not an option. In other cases, the person can be so depressed about their inabilities that they are paralyzed with frustration when they cannot do what they did so easily before. Be sensitive to this possibility, and don’t push your loved one — or yourself — to continue in a particular hobby if it only brings agitation.

Resources for Activity Planning

There are a wealth of articles and resources out there about meaningful, stimulating activity ideas for those with Alzheimer’s/related dementias. Some are better than others, but if you ask me, it all comes to back this idea of identity, to the fact that the person in your care is still an avid reader, classical music lover, golf aficionado, etc. despite the devastating diagnosis.

Storytelling/journaling, art therapy, pet therapy, intergenerational programs, reminiscing, household chores, baking, gardening, music, dancing, exercise, photography — the list goes on.

Explore the possibilities at these links if you’re at a loss, but only after you’ve asked the person in your care what they would like to do first:

1. Activities for People with Alzheimer’s

2. 101 Activities for Kids To Do with a Loved One with Alzheimer’s

3. 50 Activity Ideas for Someone with Alzheimer’s

4. Adapting Activities for People with Alzheimer’s

5. Activities for People with Alzheimer’s from AARP

What I would offer is this: Alzheimer’s has already complicated things in your life. Don’t make activity planning harder than it has to be. Adapt the activities that you/the person with Alzheimer’s has always enjoyed, and go from there. If you follow this rule-of-thumb, you have, by default, selected an activity that is both meaningful and stimulating, and the simple act of providing this activity can be a real source of comfort (to all parties involved) in the chaos that is Alzheimer’s disease.

Today’s guest post comes from SeniorsforLiving.com’s Michelle Seitzer. Before becoming a full-time freelance writer, Michelle spent 10 years in the senior living and advocacy world, serving in various roles at assisted living communities throughout Pennsylvania and Maryland, and leading the charge against Alzheimer’s as a public policy coordinator for the Pennsylvania chapters of the Alzheimer’s Association. She has blogged for SeniorsforLiving.com since November 2008 and currently resides in York, Pennsylvania, with her teacher husband and two Boston Terriers.

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