Q. My mom has Alzheimer's and sometimes she responds to music in a very positive way. How can I use this to best advantage for both of us?
Recent research at UC Davis has confirmed what those caring for loved ones with Alzheimer's have known all along: Music can evoke vivid memories of a person's past.
It has been proven that the region of the brain where memories of our past are stored and retrieved also serves as a hub that links familiar music, memories and emotion. The hub is located in the medial prefrontal cortex region, one of the last areas of the brain to atrophy over the course of the disease.
A piece of familiar music serves as a soundtrack for a mental movie that starts playing in our head. It calls back memories of a particular person or place, and we might all of a sudden see that person's face in our mind's eye.
The music which seems to stay in a person's memory is that which was listened to between the ages of 8 and 18. This could be "top 100" charts, church music or any other music that might have been popular within the family.
Do some research with other family members, if possible, to determine what would have been listened to by the family. Then gather CD's or put together an MP3 playlist with the appropriate music. It will help to bring back happy memories to your mom and also will soothe her in times of distress. Many people with dementia become more aware of the present, of their surroundings, and of other people while listening to music. This could prove to be a quality-of-life improvement strategy that would be both effective and economical.
NANCY TURNEY received a bachelor's degree in social work and a certificate in gerontology. If you have a specific question you would like answered in this column, e-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org or call Turney at the Crescenta-Cañada YMCA, (818) 790-0123, ext. 225.