2015 Archives

How can a Dallas nonprofit strike a chord against Alzheimer’s?


The following is from the August 3, 2015, edition of The Dallas Morning News. Prof. Robert Krout, chair of the Music Therapy Department in SMU Meadows School of the Arts, provided expertise for this story.

August 4, 2015

Staff Writer

The man dancing and belting out “Blue Suede Shoes” was no Elvis Presley. He didn’t have the drawling musicality or the hip-thrusting dance moves. His blue down jacket, guarding against the room’s air-conditioned chill, was no spangled white jumpsuit. His hair had gone white long ago.

The lyrics were unintelligible, the shuffle stilted, but the performance was riveting. Hours earlier, Philip Caruso, 67, who has dementia, had been sitting silent and still by himself in a corner of the Cedar Hill Healthcare Center rec room.

Behind the transformation: a pair of headphones, the Spotify app, the King himself — and a volunteer from the Dallas music therapy nonprofit group Music Is Our Weapon.

Armed with MP3 players sorted by genre, a rat’s nest of black headphones and a stack of music questionnaires, the volunteers are on a quest: to find the songs that inspire reactions like Caruso’s.

Over the course of a few visits to the nursing home, based on the answers each resident gives, they’ll build playlists of songs. They’ll then load those songs onto free MP3 players and give them to each participant. . . 

Though used with patients of all ages and backgrounds, music therapy especially “has an amazing ability to stimulate long-term memories, even if a person has cognitive impairment, with something like Alzheimer’s,” said Robert Krout, a professor and chair of the music therapy department at Southern Methodist University.

Music memories, stored as long-term and robust memories in the brain, can be triggered by hearing that music again. “Even if the person isn’t aware of it, they’ll respond,” said Krout, especially if there are emotional associations with the music or memory.

That has all kinds of positive implications: It can help make people more cognizant, reality-oriented and active, including getting them to interact with others and have some speech again. Depending on “the person’s situation at that time, what music is used and how that music is used,” music can also be used for calming purposes. An example is Alzheimer’s patients, who are often confused, anxious and even agitated, Krout said. 

Read the full story.

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