It is interesting how one can get pulled into social media: memes, videos, pictures, news networks, negative comments. All the sudden, you lose 20 or more minutes of your life wrapped around a screen when it was your last intention. Then, I see people discovering stories released 2-5 years ago and sharing posts as if they are brand new. For example, a member of a Facebook group called Music Teachers recently posted the story of Henry, an unresponsive dementia patient from the documentary Alive Inside by David Cohen. As a refresher from my 2014 blog, the assisted living facility where Henry was being treated received a grant for iPods from the Music and Memory Foundation, and his daughter helped load it with Henry’s favorite artists and tunes. When headphones playing Cab Calloway were placed over his ears, Henry lit up with energy and came alive, singing along and speaking about the music from another time.
Am I excited to see that musicians are continuing to discover the power of music in the brain for those with dementia? Absolutely. Is there disappointment that the message is still missing educators? Yes.
Music therapy is a vastly growing career field, but skeptics exist in the music world, even with a great deal of qualitative and quantitative based evidence to support its’ positive effects. A member of the same Facebook group responded to the post saying, “That works a for a period of time, but unfortunately fades as the disease progresses. It also does nothing to improve cognition, unfortunately. It is just a nice moment perhaps for the caregiver. Nobody can be sure about that right now, but it does say something about the permanency of dual coding (associated items to be learned with music or pictures for instance).”
My friends, frustration abounds for these comments made by people who are obviously not doing their homework. Accessing Google, one can easily plug in “current music therapy research for Alzheimer’s” and find an overwhelming amount of information, such as this publication released by NIH from Translational Neurodegeneration in 2017, which states, “MT [Music Therapy] can be considered a non-pharmacological intervention which has the potential effects to reduce cognitive decline, improve neuropsychiatric symptoms, and enhance the QOL [Quality of Life] of AD . Researches have demonstrated that MT can protect cognition of AD especially autobiographical and episodic memories, psychomotor speed, executive function, and global cognition.”
Music and Memory, a non-profit organization out of New York linked above, has presented years of longevity studies on how music increases cognitive and functional tasks in those with dementia.
Newspapers across the country are starting to take notice of music therapy as a valid choice for dementia patients and improving QOL. A June 2018 article from the Chicago Tribune funneled down to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about the powerful work Northwestern University is doing through a 12-week music therapy program at Silverado Memory Care in Morton Grove.
Music therapy does work!
That being said, musicians and music educators are not music therapists, but we do have the a powerful opportunity to use our gifts to validate all we are doing with students daily. To simply teach music within the four walls of our classroom would be a mistake. Without validation in the form of purposeful engagement serving others, empowerment in leadership skills, and opportunities to be innovative thinkers who create their own learning experiences in and outside the classroom, our students may feel a lack of desire and interest. Rightfully so as we consider those driving questions every student asks central to their learning process: What’s the purpose? Why am I learning this, and how does it apply to me? And for our young musicians: Why should I study music? Why put forth the effort to learn an instrument/sing a song? How will this benefit me?
Take time to assess your philosophy this summer and reflect on Gary Zukav's sentiment above. When we apply our hearts and souls to an outcome where it touches the lives of others in a positive manner, we have the power to change the world; we experience purposefulness, meaning, and fulfillment in our life’s work.
Suzuki once said, “Perhaps it is music that will save the world.” It may not be physically possible to save the entirety of the world, but it is humanly possible to help save someone from their own world of suffering through our humanity. All we need is more love and kindness... Please share your music today.