PATTI NEIGHMOND, BYLINE: The connection between music and memory was a life-changing experience for Nancy Gustafson, a retired opera singer who’s now an advocate for using music therapy to help patients with dementia.
GUSTAFSON: I start playing the piano with [my mother]. It might have been “Hark The Herald Angels Sing” or “Deck The Halls” or “Angels We Have Heard On High.” And I start playing, singing along with her. And immediately, she starts singing with me.
[GUSTAFSON:] She laughed and said, the Gustafson Family Singers.
NEIGHMOND: And at that moment, she says, her mom’s life and hers changed.
GUSTAFSON: Because all of a sudden, not only was she relating to me and was she cracking a joke, but she knew our last name. And she knew that I was related to her.
NEIGHMOND: After that, the family hired a music therapist to visit once a week and a young singer to come sing with her mom for 45 minutes, seven days a week. Gradually, her mother started to communicate again. Music therapy is increasingly common in assisted living facilities – just not common enough, says [neuroscientist Nina] Kraus. Music, she says, should be a standard of care for dementia.
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