AKRON, Ohio — Sunshine spilled through the windows, making the room cheerful and inviting. Yet many kept their heads down and their eyes closed.
The caregivers at the Barberton, Ohio, Pleasant View Health Care Center spoke their names, but some residents failed to respond, until the music started. Often lost in their own worlds, now they began tapping their feet.
Those who are usually alert in the sessions encouraged those who are generally not.
Though too exhausted to remain awake the entire time, one elderly resident sprang alert when she heard a favorite tune, even pretending to play the piano; perhaps it was something she did when her mind and body were whole.
“I’ve watched very lethargic and withdrawn residents come out of their shells and connect with the world,” said certified music therapist Kathy Lindberg, who was working with the room. “Facilities often look at the residents who are withdrawn, won’t come out of their rooms, or sleep their lives away, to come to this kind of therapy.”
In Oliver Sacks’ book “Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain,” he writes about various ailments, including dementia, and the positive effect music can have.
“The aim of music therapy in people with dementia seeks to address the emotions, cognitive powers, thoughts and memories, the surviving of ‘self’ of the patient, to stimulate these and bring them to the fore. It aims to enrich and enlarge existence, to give freedom, stability, organization, and focus.”
Though he admits that it might seem like a tall order in patients with advanced dementia, music therapy with such patients is possible because the perception, sensibility, emotion and memory of music can survive long after other forms of memory have disappeared.
When working with the elderly, Lindberg focuses on hits of the ’20s-40s.
“Men and women may be sitting in a room, not knowing where or who they are, but can remember the words to all their favorite songs,” Lindberg said. “Making a connection to something in their lives causes what I like to call ‘the magic of music therapy.’
“If you sing ‘You Are My Sunshine,’ it brings back so many memories. Then they are connecting to their world. It might be in the past, but they’re communicating and connecting to their immediate environment. They are out of that fog.”
That connection to music sometimes carries on to other parts of their lives.
Licensed music therapist Kathy Lindberg leads residents at the Pleasant View Health Care Center in a variety of songs in Barberton, Ohio. Lindberg believes that playing music from their youth, especially for people with dementia, can reawaken them by getting them to hum, sing, smile and interact with those about them. (Ed Suba Jr./Akron Beacon Journal/MCT)×
Kathy Lindberg (right) uses a scarf to help aged Ohio residents sing a song that the colors bring to mind.×