South Jersey Alzheimer’s patients tune in to memories through music

8:25 AM, Dec. 19, 2011 by Alzheimer’s Association

Every morning, Marvin Weinstein fixes breakfast for his wife of 56 years, Estelle. She doesn’t speak. Diagnosed in 2005 with Alzheimer’s disease, she has forgotten how. It’s been a long time since she could remember his name.

Instead of holding a one-sided conversation at their kitchen table, Weinstein plays selections from a donated iPod shuffle (“or whatever it’s called,” the 81-year-old says). The Cherry Hill couple listen to Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Kate Smith or songs from the 1940s and ‘50s they once danced to.

Weinstein sings along, recalling the words as best he can. Then he hears his wife’s voice: “God bless America,” she sings. “Land that I love …”

It’s sweet, sweet music. And its ability to stimulate memory is more powerful than one might imagine.

The buzz about music and the brain has been growing louder in recent months. Music therapy is playing a role in the recovery of Rep. Gabby Giffords, D-Arizona, who was shot in the head last January. She has since recovered part of her ability to walk, talk, read and write.

In South Jersey, too, caregivers and healthcare providers are turning to music as more than entertainment.

About six months ago, the owners of Assisted Living At Home started a nonprofit called Music For Memory, which collects used iPods and loads them with personalized music for people with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.

The Mount Laurel-based organization gives the devices to anyone who qualifies, about 40 so far, according to co-founder Gary Skole. The Weinsteins are among them.

“What we found through research and just in speaking to our clients is that music makes a huge difference,” said Skole, whose home care business specializes in dementia care. “When they can’t remember their children’s names, they can remember the words to the songs. When people are sitting there listless, they start to move and perk up.”

The iPods are customized with meaningful music: the client’s wedding song, military songs for veterans, and titles from their favorite singers. (Dean Martin seems to be a favorite, Skole said.) They come with large headphones or speakers, chargers and a lesson on how to use the device, all free of charge.


  • Identify music that’s familiar and enjoyable to the listeners.
  • Use live music, tapes or CDs; radio programs, interrupted by too many commercials, can cause confusion.
  • Use music to create the mood you want.
  • Link music with other reminiscence activities; use photographs to help stir memories.
  • Encourage movement (clapping, dancing) to add to the enjoyment.
  • Avoid sensory overload; eliminate competing noises by shutting windows and doors and by turning off the television.

About Anton Coleman, MD

I am a Behavioral Neurologist & Neuro-Endocrinologist with more than 27 years of experience and practice.
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