15: Music and Memory (Transcript)

George Drake Jr. I’m George Drake Jr

Craig Shank And I’m Craig Shank. This is Everything Sounds.

George Drake Jr. What if your long-term memory only lasted 7 to 30 seconds and your past memory, in a sense, well, it never existed. And now imagine that in that past memory you were a cellist and currently, you’re still able to play. This is the reality for a man only referred to as the initials P.M.

Craig Shank  P.M. remember how to play the cello and during a study it’s been discovered that he can actually learn new music. He can identify parts of sheet music including time signatures and he can even pass a musical memory test. All of this while forgetting what his apartment looks like or who his doctors are. Those things are called explicit memory.

George Drake Jr. The doctors studying P.M. have concluded that musical memory is stored where explicit memory is not. Although P.M. is not able to recall facts or events, he’s not only still able to use his musical knowledge, but he’s also able to add to it. Think about it. A series of parts of the brain that are safe from memory loss.

Craig Shank That’s where we’ll be headed: trying to squeeze ourselves into those spots with the help from a program that’s in 21 states and 62 care facilities across North America as well as the Netherlands, Australia, and Israel.

George Drake Jr. This is Dan.

Dan Cohen Dan Cohen, C-O-H-E-N.

George Drake Jr. He founded what we’ll be talking about today.

Dan Cohen Founder and executive director of Music and Memory

Craig Shank With a name like music and Memory it focuses on exactly what you’d think. It’s a non-profit organization which uses personalized music to help improve the lives of the elderly or those in health care facilities. They’ve seen the most impact with one group of individuals.

Dan Cohen It’s especially effective for people with Alzheimer’s Disease.

Craig Shank Music and Memory has been bringing music to patients for almost a decade. They’ve seen drastic changes in some patients after increasing their access to music.

George Drake Jr. What’s important about what they do is what Craig said earlier, ‘personalized music.’ If you’ve ever been to a retirement home you probably know that music does play a role in the lives of residents. People come in to play the piano and some music is played from stereos, but Dan saw an outlet for something truly different and potentially more rewarding.

Dan Cohen So, I called up my nearest nursing home and I said, “I know that music is already your number one recreational activity, but can we see if there’s any added value to totally personalizing the music for each resident?” And they said, “Sure.” And so, I came in with my laptop and some iPods and it was an instant hit with the individuals who were reconnected with their music.

Craig Shank If the patient can still communicate, Music and Memory will sit down and learn about them, things like, what they did when they were younger, genres of music that they listened to most often, and some of their favorite artists — anything that can establish a baseline for what music they could provide. If the patient doesn’t have the ability to communicate, they take another approach

Dan Cohen Many people are not able to articulate their music or their preferences and so we then speak to their family and we’ll ask them, “Well, what did they listen to when they were young? Were they in a choir or a chorus? Did they like going to musicals? Did they sing in the shower? What’d sing as kids with them? In their closet now and storage, what records are in there?”

George Drake Jr. Dan said one thing that is crucial is that they don’t just provide them with the ‘music of their era.’ Preference goes much deeper than that. I remember one time when I was in the car with my dad Elvis Costello’s ‘Radio Radio’ came on and he said he’d never heard of him. I just figured that because he was in his 20’s in the 70’s that he’d know who Elvis Costello was, but that’s exactly it, we’re all quite different. Just because somebody grew up in a certain decade doesn’t necessarily mean the music from that decade means something to them.

Dan Cohen Oh, they’re 40’s, therefore they like big band and they like Frank Sinatra. Well, not always the case. Every person is like…their preferences are like fingerprints. Every person has a different playlist once you really get down to what they really like, what really moves them.

Craig Shank The process is pretty simple from there. Once they establish a foundation of the music that the patient enjoys they come in with iPods and headphones. They’re not exclusively using iPods in some sort of plot to support Apple. It’s just a training and access issue. The organization didn’t want staff members at these facilities to have to learn how to operate all different kinds of mp3 players. Plus, there’s a built-in music server associated with ipods in the form of iTunes. It was really just easier for everyone involved.

George Drake Jr. They may use Apple products, but they don’t use those earbuds. Many patients don’t even want to use headphones they give them, but over time they begin to associate the music with the headphones. So ultimately, they get used to them. After bringing the patient to a table with the iPod and headphones, they can sit down and enjoy the music from their past.

Dan Cohen So, certainly, and for others who have sort of mid-stage Alzheimer’s who are really feeling great angst because they know that they’re not functioning the way they want to be and it’s very frustrating for them, the music gives them them a break. They can enjoy the music. They can be totally focused on the music and that’s a really big deal and families, therefore, can finally have a break and enjoy themselves.

Craig Shank Often, the patient’s family members also benefit from this kind of service. Imagine someone in your family not responding to you or maybe not even recognizing you. Then they come to life after hearing the music of their youth.

George Drake Jr. So, that’s what they do at Music and Memory. They attempt to reconnect people with their past even if it’s only for a short while. They just want to bring some life and joy back into families’ loved ones.

Dan Cohen They’ve been watching their loved one decline, perhaps consistently over months or years and so anything that they can do to bring pleasure back, to reconnect them with music and to have their mood change or to see even for someone who is….has very advanced dementia and they’re not responding to…they may no longer recognize their own family members, they may no longer be able to speak, but if they hear music from their youth, they will very often just awaken, started singing the music to almost perfect rhythm and it’s quite a site to behold. And so families are really delighted, you know, when they see this.

Craig Shank Music and Memory wants their practices to become a standard of care in all sixteen-thousand facilities across the U.S. Dan explained that the US government is looking into a multi-year plan to help reduce the amount of prescription drugs given to Alzheimer’s patients in nursing homes across the country, but Music and Memory may be able to do that in around 3 or 4 months.

Dan Cohen It’s even better. There are drugs for people. I mean, there are drugs, anti-psychotic drugs to calm people down, which increase mortality rate, by the way, according to studies that everybody is aware of who’s in the industry. You have anti-anxiety medications, anti-depression medications, there are sleeping pills, but for our nursing homes that are tracking this, they’re finding, in one instance, they were tracking the use of these drugs, the anti-psychotics, they cut the use in half…the number of residents who were using them in half, you know, pre- and post-use of the iPod.

Craig Shank Music as medication, who knew?

Dan Cohen So, we’d really like to replicate this and sort of demonstrate this to the government so that everybody agrees, you know, let’s make this happen.

George Drake Jr. Music and Memory is doing something that no drug has been able to do up until this point. It’s bringing life to patients who, most often, haven’t been very responsive. What’s even better? It’s a natural shift, not a manufactured one.

Dan Cohen As Dr. Al Power, who is a prominent geriatrician and leading the way in terms of person-centered care for nursing home residences, said, “Drugs can dim the spark. They can’t ignite it.” They can’t really make you alive and that’s what the music does. So, we’re very excited about that.

George Drake Jr. And that’s what makes this organization so special. They’re making a difference without making a change in the body’s chemistry. The music brings back a piece of them that they haven’t necessarily forgotten, but in a sense misplaced. Music and Memory just digs it up and dusts it off.

Dan Cohen If the outcomes that we’re generating with the music came in the form of a pill, that pill would be a multi-billion dollar blockbuster and every doctor would be learning how to prescribe it for their patients, but because it’s not in the form of a pill, not just the doctors, but families….we don’t think of it. “Oh, if it’s not a pill is it good enough for my mother? Will it really work?” There’s doubt and so we have proof this is working. It doesn’t work for everybody in the same way, but it’s working most of the time and so there’s everything to gain and really nothing to lose by trying.

Craig Shank Dan and his nonprofit have helped many patients living with Alzheimer’s, but there were a few that were particularly memorable. One was woman who was living in a care facility in PennsylvaniaS he was on anti-anxiety medication like he had mentioned earlier.

Dan Cohen She would always repeat the same four or five word phrase. For instance, she’d watch a John Wayne western. She’d be saying, “Quick! Get the gun,” if she heard that phrase over and over and the problem was, aside from her own anxiety, she’d say it loud any time day or night and it was really hard for everybody.

Craig Shank The nurses proposed this idea of using music to her son. He went on to explain that she never really listened to music and he couldn’t remember a time where she’d listen to music in the house. It just wouldn’t work.

Dan Cohen …and they really pleaded with him. You know, there’s nothing to lose, and they finally did it and in two week’s time she not only stopped repeating herself, she was just singing the song from end to end, all of the words and she was much more relaxed to the point was….because this happened during the holidays, that one of the staff, nursing staff, was on vacation for two weeks. She came back. She said, “What happened to her?” And they said, you know, “More drugs? What’d you do?” No, no. It was the music.

George Drake Jr. There was another time where Dan was in a nursing home and he asked one of the nurses a fairly simple question. He said, “Who’s your most disruptive resident?”

Dan Cohen …and they said, “Well, yeah, we have this guy he’s cursing at the nurses, he’ll knock the water out of their hands, the food. It’s really very…a big drain on everybody,” and I said, “Well, what do we know about his background?” They said, “We really don’t know much except he was in the Navy.”

George Drake Jr. Dan never spoke to his family and he never spoke with him directly, but just with that one piece of information he was able to create a 30-song patriotic playlist. They just put the headphones on him and hoped for the best.

Dan Cohen …and he snapped to attention. So…and then started singing and humming the songs. So, instead of cursing and being…he was fully occupied with the music and so instantly we just changed his life and the lives of those around him.

Craig Shank Probably the most vivide example was a man by the name of Henry. His story is pretty standard as far as Alzheimer’s patients are concerned. Most of the time, he was unresponsive and pretty much just sat with his eyes down at the table.

George Drake Jr. Music and Memory brought Henry the music of his past and filmmaker Michael Rossato-Bennett came along to document his experience. You may have seen the clip when it first came out in 2012. It’s from a movie titled ‘Alive Inside.’

Craig Shank Before Henry gets the headphones his head is facing down, he’s keeping to himself, and is generally he’s uninterested in the people around him. When the music finally gets turned on, his entire demeanor changes. He sits upright, his eyes open wide looking straight ahead of him, and instead of sitting quietly, Henry hums along.

George Drake Jr. What’s even more amazing is Henry after hearing the music. He’s responsive and more alert than before. And when he’s asked what his favorite Cab Calloway song is, he sings it. A man who spends most of his day quiet and to himself is all of a sudden expressive and coherent through the power of music.

George Drake Jr. It’s been proven that smell is the strongest sense attributed to memory, but memory attributed to sound is much different. With smell it’s often associated with a place or a person, but with sound, or more specifically music, it’s a time of our lives or it’s a fragment of our youth, but with Henry, it’s a memory to be re-lived. Music is a way to define our past and a way to remember who we once were.

Craig Shank Music and Memory is an organization intent on restoring dignity and happiness to patients and hope to their families. Without using medications or potentially harmful practices, Dan and his colleagues take the time to learn about each of the patients and create something original for them. Placing the emotional well-being of a loved one in the hands of an mp3 player might seem bizarre at first, but like Dan said, “There’s nothing to lose.”

Dan Cohen Certainly if you put the headphones on…I’ve had it with somebody who just sits quietly listening to the music and they’re relaxing and they’re enjoying the music, you know. We like sometimes to listen to calming music or loud music or whatever depending on our mood and regardless of what condition you have, your moods are the same. Your emotional system is really, pretty much unchanged and even if you can’t speak or remember things from five minutes ago, the music is still going to soothe your soul. I mean, it is food for the soul and for people not to have access to their music, you know, is unfortunate.

George Drake Jr. You can find out more about Music and Memory and how you can contribute to the organization from our website, everything sounds dot org. There you can also see that clip of Henry from the Michael Rossato-Bennett film ‘Alive Inside.’

Craig Shank If you’re new to the show or you just want to dig back through our past episodes, find the episode guide on the website and you can also find links to follow on Twitter or like us on Facebook and subscribe to us on iTunes and Stitcher.

George Drake Jr. If you like what we’re doing with this show, tell us! We love your feedback. Go to the contact page at our website or rate and review our show on iTunes.

Craig Shank And if you feel like those kind words aren’t enough, consider becoming an Everything Sounds Audiophile. You can support the show by giving a one-time or monthly donation. Every little bit counts.

George Drake Jr. Until Next time, thanks for listening to Everything Sounds. I’m George Drake, Jr.

Craig Shank And I’m Craig Shank.

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