A few years ago I was asked to sing a Christmas program for a local convalescent care facility. This facility included residents with Alzheimer’s disease in various stages. At the time I didn’t dwell on that fact — I didn’t know about music’s impact on Alzheimer’s patients!

I chose songs that I remembered hearing as a child and some that my parents used to enjoy around the Christmas holidays. I also sang pieces from popular television Christmas shows from the 1960’s and 1970’s.

I didn’t consider at the time that these songs might bring up memories, both good and bad, about the season and about the lives of the residents.

I noticed during the time I spent with these folks that some of the songs had tremendous effect on their overall well-being. Some of the pieces were from the WWII era; these songs brought out the most emotion. Other songs seemed to be relaxing, and a few brought out smiles and laughter.

As time passed I couldn’t help but replay the evening. For some reason I just couldn’t let go of the experience — something was eating at me. I was putting the puzzle pieces together as the days went by … the song’s era was eliciting certain memories and those memories seemed to bring about changes in the listener.

Finally it dawned on me: it seemed that the music was unlocking some of the influences of Alzheimer’s on the audience! But, could that really happen?

Oh, indeed it could!

In fact, music does “unlock” memories in Alzheimer’s patients!

I began to study Alzheimer’s disease in earnest and tie that research to my experience in music education. I also found that I could utilize my work in Special Education (Autism), as well, since music was a part of that dynamic.

The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America describes the power of music on Alzheimer’s patients and music therapy in an article on their website. I’ll be posting several experiences I’ve had with these folks in the near future. If you have an interest in Alzheimer’s and would like to know more about the power of music for memory enhancement, please get in touch with me or comment below.