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Constance Alexander: ‘Music Alive’ program offers hope to Alzheimer’s patients and caregivers alike

More than 5 million Americans are currently living with Alzheimer’s, and more than 15 million are providing unpaid care for them. Total up the cost, and it is estimated that the 18.2 billion hours of unpaid care and assistance to those living with Alzheimer’s and dementia contribute a whopping $230.1 billion to the nation.

If those numbers are not enough to get your attention, get a load of this:

• Approximately two-thirds of caregivers are women, and 34 percent are age 65 or older
• 41 percent of caregivers have a household income of $50,000 or less.
• Approximately one quarter of dementia caregivers are “sandwich generation” caregivers — meaning that they care not only for an aging parent, but also for children under age 18.

Currently, there are no cures for Alzheimer’s. Although new treatments and clinical trials are available, the landscape of hope is pretty barren. One approach that requires minimal cost with optimal results is a movement called “Alive Inside,” which describes itself as leading an “empathy revolution” to transform Elder-care, Education, and Culture.

Music is the heart of “Alive Inside,” and the prescription is easy to follow. Caregivers are encouraged to interview their elder, if possible, and create a song list from her or his life. The result can be saved in an electronic device like an ipod, or to Spotify.

Brain research affirms the connection between mind and body, and music accesses multiple parts of the brain, staying strong almost to the end of life. My mother was an example of music’s enduring power. After she was almost completely immobilized by a stroke – unable to walk, take care of herself, read, or even speak more than a few words – she was still able to sing Christmas carols, word and note perfect.

In every other situation, she could not hold an idea for more than a few seconds. Her verbal responses were like a needle skipping over the surface of a record. Occasionally, she got “stuck” with one word or phrase, but mostly she was unable to interact with people or with her environment. Nevertheless, her mind could sift back through more than eighty years of her life and come up with “Oh Come, All ye Faithful” in Latin. When we sang that and other beloved holiday songs together, she was alert and smiling.

Two years ago, Murray-Calloway County Endowment for Health Care and Cheri Movie Theatres in Murray teamed up to offer free screenings of the film “Alive Inside.” More than 300 people attended. As a result, the local hospital’s Spring Creek facility has provided 201 ipods. Between September 2015 and October of this year, 193 ipods have been used by Spring Creek residents, 2 for community members, and 6 for patients at the Anna Mae Owen Residential Hospice House.

According to Keith Travis, VP of Development at the Murray hospital, Dick Weaver, in memory of his wife Dr. Jan Weaver, has become such a fan of the program that he has become an enthusiastic donor. The community has also been inspired by “Alive Inside,” and $25,000 has been raised in support of the program.

“’Alive Inside’ has had the positive long-range impact of a sustainable program. Although our original plan was not this expansive, it is a blessing to see philanthropy at work,” Mr. Travis said.

According to their recently re-designed website, “Alive Inside” wants to bring people together. “Loneliness and disconnection un-make our world,” it says. “We need to connect. Together we can bring music and peace to Alzheimer’s Disease; teach youth connection and wisdom skills; spark an empathy revolution and transform eldercare, education and culture.”

Learn more at www.aliveinside.org.

Constance Alexander is a columnist, award-winning poet and playwright, and President of INTEXCommunications in Murray, Ky. She can be reached at Calexander9@murraystate.edu. Or visit www.constancealexander.com.

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