Fundraiser set to help bring the medicine of music to Nevada County Alzheimer’s patients
Forrest Reed was worried about his mother, Betty, who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and seemed to be declining fast.
He lived in Sacramento, while his mother was nearly 2,000 miles away in Indiana. Increasingly disoriented, she had fallen a number of times and had accidentally set the microwave on fire. In 2015, shortly before Reed was scheduled to fly back to help his mother recover from yet another fall, he saw a film that would change his life.
“Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory,” a heartfelt 2014 documentary film that won the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival, demonstrates music’s remarkable ability to ease the suffering of many Alzheimer’s patients. In the film, Dan Cohen of the nonprofit organization “Music & Memory,” places head phones on patients and watches them tap into emotions and memories that caretakers were certain had been lost.
“My mom lit up when I put on her headphones with all of her old favorites — Frank Sinatra, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie. She’d seen some of these guys perform in New Orleans in 1943 during World War II,” said Reed. “The last part of the brain to die off is the music center. The music triggered all these wonderful memories. She didn’t recognize her apartment, but she began to share all these wonderful memories and stories from the war. It was remarkable.”
Founded in 2010, Music & Memory has now implemented personalized music programs in more than 4,000 memory care facilities throughout the U.S. and Canada. They are also broadening their reach to include programs in hospice care, adult day care, assisted living, hospitals and home health care.
Reed, who retired from the music industry and has a long history of organizing fundraising concerts for Northern California nonprofits, has now turned his attention to Nevada County. Teaming up with longtime KVMR broadcaster Jenny Michael, a benefit concert for Music & Memory featuring the Sacramento-based group, “Steelin’ Dan,” is scheduled for April 7 at The Center for the Arts in Grass Valley. The event will help bring Music & Memory “packages” to Nevada County memory care facilities and will also include performances by the Nevada County group, The Rayos, whose members have opted to waive their performance fee for the cause.
Through the Music & Memory program, elder care professionals are trained how to create and provide personalized play lists using iPods/MP3 players and related digital audio systems that enable those with Alzheimer’s, dementia and other cognitive and physical challenges to reconnect with the world through music-triggered memories.
“I have long been fascinated with music therapy and when I learned what this program provides to those suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia, I was deeply moved,” said Michael. “I did the interview with Forrest, and began to wonder if there were any facilities in Nevada County that were using this program, and quickly discovered that there was not. So, I contacted Forrest and asked him if he would help me change that, and he agreed. We knew that with his wealth of knowledge and experience combined with my 30 years in this community, we would make a powerful team. We’re hopeful that people will now turn out to support this wonderful program and help get it into this community. Music is medicine!”
Given Nevada County’s large senior population, Reed said he was surprised to learn that no memory care facilities have implemented the Music & Memory program. He is currently researching area facilities to determine which ones will be the recipients. The amount of money raised from the Music & Memory benefit concert will determine just how many local programs will be donated. Reed hopes at least 60 individuals will be set up with hearing devices and personalized playlists.
A growing body of research backs the claim that listening to music engages a broad range of neural networks. A 2009 study from the Center for Mind and Brain at the University of California, Davis, found that “specific brain regions linked to autobiographical memories and emotions are activated by familiar music,” which helps to explain why music can cause such strong responses from people with Alzheimer’s. Additionally, the area of the brain that is activated by music, “is located in the medial prefrontal cortex region — right behind the forehead — and one of the last areas of the brain to atrophy over the course of Alzheimer’s disease.”
While bringing music into the lives of those with dementia has become a passion for Reed, it’s also personal. After seeing his mother live for years as a shell of her former self, she came alive with music. In fact, she died moments after singing the Purdue Fight Song, learned decades ago from her beloved alma mater.
“In the film, when listening to music, one of the patients said, ‘I felt like I had wings,’” said Reed. “Well, I say, let’s give them wings.”
To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at Cory@theunion.com.
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