Kingman duo finds music connects with Alzheimer's patients
KINGMAN - Music can lull a baby to sleep, entertain us, relax us after a long day and inspire us to work harder.
But can it also help the human brain?
Ron Lodge and Jean Palmer believe it can.
They point to medical studies and their own experiences that show that music can affect the mood and alter the behavior of Alzheimer's patients.
The two Kingman residents have been singing together as Ronald D. and Jean Marie of Love Music Revival since 2010.
Both of them grew up in homes surrounded by music. Palmer's mother was an accomplished pianist who taught her daughters to play and sing. Palmer said she and her sisters would sing and tap dance at various events, including a USO event in Pennsylvania and for the 1954 opening of the radio station WFMJ in Ohio. She and her sisters continued to sing and dance with each other until they all eventually married and moved on with their own lives.
Lodge started singing with his brother at his hometown Elks Lodge when he was 6. He sang in numerous barbershop quartet competitions as a teenager.
Lodge and Palmer got back into music in 2010 when they created Love Music Revival, which also provides entertainment for parties and events.
Nursing homes, assisted living facilities and Alzheimer's units up and down the Colorado River have hired them to sing for their residents. They recently played at anassisted living facility in Lodge's hometown of Eugene, Ore. and have even played for the Lingenfelter Center and its group of assisted living facilities.
In nearly every case, they have seen an improvement in the mood and sometimes the behavior of some the patients at the facilities, Lodge said.
Palmer described one resident who would come to every gig they would play at her facility.
"When we first met her, she would just kind of wander around with her arms at her sides, not saying anything," Palmer said. "Then one day she made this kind of moaning/groaning noise. One of the nurses said that was the first time she had ever heard that woman make a sound."
After that, every time Palmer and Lodge came to sing the woman would wander round the room making noises. After a few weeks, the woman approached Lodge and Palmer as they were packing up their things.
"In a real low voice she told us, 'Don't go,'" Palmer said. It was at that point that Lodge, Palmer and the nursing staff at the facility realized that all of the noises the woman had been making over the past few weeks had been words. She had been trying to sing along with them and some of the other residents.
"It really does have a therapeutic value to these residents," he said. "It makes them really happy. There's one facility where they line up in their wheelchairs outside the door of the activities room on the days that we come."
According to the Alzheimer's Foundation of America, medical studies show that music therapy can help shift mood, sooth agitated patients and help with cognitive functions and motor skills, such as walking.
The two can sing and play music from nearly every era but they try to concentrate on music from teen and childhood eras of their audiences, Lodge said.
According to the Alzheimer's Foundation, music from those years of a patient's life seems to generate the most response.
According to an article written by Drs. Michael Thaut and Gerald McIntosh for the Dana Foundation - a private organization that supports brain research through grants - research shows that the music simultaneously activates numerous sections on both sides of the brain that deal with perception, thinking, motor skills, language skills, hearing, attention and memory. It also creates complex interactions between all of these sections of the brain at the same time.
According to Thaut and McIntosh, the research also found that learning how to play music can change the structure and size of these sections of brain. It causes them to grow and interact more efficiently.
Doctors and therapists are now using this information to come up with new ways to treat dementia, head injuries, strokes and other afflictions that affect a person's motor skills, speech and cognitive functions.
For example, according to a Discovery.com story, a Texas therapist used music to teach U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords to sing certain phrases.
In January 2011, Giffords was shot in the head by a gunman during an event she was holding. Twelve people were injured during the shooting and six people were killed, including a 9-year-old girl and a federal judge.
Gifford's songs eventually turned into chants that eventually lead to full sentences in normal speech.
Thaut and McIntosh theorized that the ability of music to connect and activate different parts of the brain simultaneously allows a person singing words to bypass injured or damaged sections.
In stroke victims, music therapy seems to help smooth out the gait of the patient. Thaut and McIntosh think that the brain is actually using the music as timer to coordinate the movements of the body.
But the two doctors believe that passively listening to music isn't enough. Patients have to be actively engaged with the music, such as moving to the beat, singing or creating music by beating a drum.
The research has created a separate medical specialty, music therapy.
According to the American Music Therapy Association, to be a certified music therapist a person must have at least a four-year degree from an accredited college, complete an internship and pass an exam from the Certification Board for Music Therapists. The association's website lists several universities and colleges across the nation that offer degrees in music therapy, including Arizona State University.
According to the association, music therapy is actually a reimbursable treatment under Medicare. However, it must be prescribed by a doctor, be a necessary treatment for the patient and have a documented treatment plan that creates improvement in the patient.
Arizona also reimburses music therapy for patients with developmental difficulties through a Medicaid Home and Community Based Care waiver.
Some private insurers also cover music therapy, but it usually requires pre-approval.
Lodge and Palmer are trying to get their work covered by Medicare and Medicaid but there just isn't enough work in the Kingman area and they may have to move.
"There just aren't enough facilities," Lodge said.
However, they haven't made up their minds to move just yet, he said.
To contact Love Music Revival, call (928) 692-3998 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.