“Sit beside me, please.” People with dementia and Alzheimer’s still want someone to sit beside them. They want us to talk to them, pay attention, spend time, and remind them of who they are and use to be. When we are with them, there are things to keep in mind. We need to be patient so that when they remember those moments, we experience it with them, and help them through the emotions that come alive.
If we just give them iPods and playlists, they can enjoy the time listening to music alone.
But, imagine this…a music therapist and a family member are sitting beside an elderly woman with dementia. There is no emotion on the patient’s face, her head is down, and she can’t speak a full sentence to save her life. Then, the music therapist begins to play the patient’s favorite song from the 1940’s, “A Bushel and a Peck”. Slowly, the patient lift’s her head, she has a huge smile on her face, and her shoulders begin to dance. She starts to sing along, except she is verbally slower than the tempo the music therapist is playing. Music therapist notices her response and slows the musical tempo a bit so that the woman can sing along. The woman continues to sing every single word along with facial expressions and blowing kisses to her family member. This, by far, is an amazing response for the family member to witness and be a part of. The experience awakened the patient and transitioned her to a much better emotional state which can contribute to decreased negative behaviors. It made a wonderful memory for the family member who was able to see a beautiful glimmer of who the older woman use to be.
“Alive Inside” is a film created by Michael Rossato-Bennett – Writer, Director and Producer. The film accompanies Dan Cohen, founder of a non-profit, Music and Memory as he visits elderly folks with dementia and Alzheimer’s who live in nursing homes. In giving the patients headphones and iPods with personal playlists, they film the positive responses. The film gives the impression that it is music therapy because of the research quoted, and the individuals in the music therapy profession who were interviewed. It has created some confusion in the public as to what music therapy really is. I haven’t had the privilege of viewing the film yet, but Rachelle from Soundscaping Source has seen it. You can read her “Alive Inside” film review here. In another article, Rachelle offered her thoughts about the Music and Memory Program with some concern,
“The American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) supports music for all and applauds the efforts of individuals who share their music-making and time; we say the more music the better! But clinical music therapy is the only professional, research-based discipline that actively applies supportive science to the creative, emotional, and energizing experiences of music for health treatment and educational goals.” (American Music Therapy Association, 2014,
According to the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA), the film is not clinical music therapy. The movie trailer is emotionally moving. It shares positive, exciting moments of individuals reacting to the recorded music. However, keep in mind, it is not the clinical use of music therapy to facilitate expressive and receptive communication, increase alertness, decrease behavioral and psychological symptoms related to Dementia, increase engagement, increase mobility and physical functioning and validate life experiences. My mission and the AMTA’s mission is to advance public awareness of the benefits of music therapy and increase ACCESS to quality music therapy services in a rapidly changing world. In consideration of the diversity of music used in healthcare, special education, and other settings, we recommend the unique knowledge and skill of board certified music therapists.