Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The Power of Music on Dementia and Why Our Kids Should Take Lessons

One of the coolest times in our life was a period in which our garage became a weekly hang-out for  jazz musicians.   Robert played sax and our son-in-law played drums, but the real treat was our friendship with several retired jazz musicians.   A couple of them had played music with the Big Bands in the 1940’s.  They would get together and jam at our place and sometimes over at John's. 
 John Peirce was a Christian who had been a world class jazz alto saxophonist and had played with some of the greatest musicians of the last century.  He lived and breathed music and his lingo reflected the bygone Beatnik era.   He always referred to the other musicians as “Cats”.    John was such an interesting man who played many instruments and gave music lessons to children in his elderly years.    And yet his neighbors probably never knew that such an incredibly gifted man lived in the humble ramshackle house on their street.    

John developed severe dementia in his final years and his family eventually had to place him in a care facility.  The last time we visited him at the nursing home, his memory was pretty much gone.   Dementia had changed this dear saint nearly beyond recognition.    
But when we escorted him to the community gathering room and sat him down at the piano, the magic happened.   John began to play and pretty much blew everyone who happened to pass by out of the water.  In those few minutes he became the old John again.   
The Psalmist says that our bodies are “fearfully and wonderfully made”,  and when it comes to music,  it seems that God must have hardwired something extra special into us.  Perhaps this is why music has always been such a prominent part of worship and will continue to be so throughout eternity.   
Research shows that certain areas of memory in the brain called Procedural Memory, are particularly resistant to decline despite the severity of dementia.   Music is one of the activities included in this area. 
 Dr. Ronald Devere, a neurologist specializing in dementia, writes:
“Music can have a significant impact on memory and cognition beyond merely listening to it. …Studies have shown that elderly musicians outperform non-musicians on tasks assessing auditory processing, cognitive control, and comprehension of speech in noisy environments.16-17  
This has also been shown to occur in elderly persons with minimal early music training and even after a short period of music training in those with no previous music training. …In one study, musically na├»ve participants (ages 30-85) who received six months of piano lessons compared with no treatment control group showed improved performance on specific cognitive tasks that represent executive function, such as speed of processing information, verbal fluency, and enhanced mood.18 These studies suggest that music training may have a protective effect in the face of age-related mild cognitive changes and can occur even after short periods of training in the elderly.”1 

When our children were young we insisted that they all take music lessons, whether they wanted to or not.   Both of our girls enjoyed it very much but though our son loved to sing around the house, he hated every minute of his trumpet lessons.   Nevertheless we made him stick with it for a year and now I’m thankful we did. 

Music is a wonderful gift from God, and it may even be somewhat of a saving grace in the twilight of our life.

Amazon: John Peirce - Memorial Album – Cadence Jazz Records

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