VNA event explores the impact of music on Alzheimer’s patients
While the devastating effects of Alzheimer’s disease can rob so much from a person’s memory, researchers find there is one area of the brain the disease does not touch.
This phenomenon is perhaps best exemplified in the story of award-winning country music legend Glen Campbell.
During VNA Health’s PHorum event on Thursday, members of the public parked at Westwind Drive-In in Goleta to watch “I’ll Be Me,” which memorializes Mr. Campbell’s final tour following his very public Alzheimer’s diagnosis in 2011. The documentary was produced by award-winning actress Jane Seymour.
The film shows the effect of the disease on Mr. Campbell’s abilities both on and off stage, showing the progression of the disease from the early to middle stages. What started as a five-week tour shifted into almost two years on the road, as sold-out crowds packed stadiums across the country to experience their last chance to see the Rhinestone Cowboy in action.
“(The tour) was such a gift to our family,” Kim Campbell, Glen’s wife of 34 years and a Santa Barbara resident, told the News-Press at the drive-in. “It was such a precious time to celebrate’s Glen’s life while he was still cognitive and understood what was going on.”
In “I’ll Be Me,” viewers get a behind-the-scene look at the singer’s final concerts, both on stage and off. As the film progresses, viewers see Mr. Campbell struggle to remember details about his life off stage but coming alive when his band played his hits such as “Gentle On My Mind” and “Rhinestone Cowboy.”
Mr. Campbell died from the disease in 2017 at age 81.
“It was also heart wrenching to see him struggle, but what a blessing to see him walk on stage and music just somehow brought him back,” Mrs. Campbell said. “Off stage, he’s confused and wondering what’s going on, but the minute he heard the music, it was like a miracle.”
A growing body of research suggests that music therapy can be very beneficial for Alzheimer’s patients, even those in the final stages of the disease. Even when a patient loses the ability to verbally communicate from the disease, health experts say hearing their favorite song can still bring a smile to their face.
In his research, Dr. Kenneth Kosick, a renowned Alzheimer’s researcher and co-director of the UCSB Neuroscience Research Institute, has found that music can have a huge impact on an Alzheimer patient’s memory, triggering responses from even those in the most advanced stage of the disease.
“I saw a gentleman who had fairly advanced disease. He was bed-bound, could no longer talk, and his family would get him up, put him in a chair, put a harmonica in his hands and he would start playing,” Dr. Kosick told the News-Press. “Music just is a different pathway in the brain that is independent of language, that is independent of many other brain functions.”
He added, “And fortunately, music seems to be somewhat spared in this inexorable progression of Alzheimer’s disease. So people can have pretty advanced disease and still respond to music. It’s remarkable.”
At VNA Health, music therapy has been part of their treatment for Alzheimer’s patients for over a decade.
As the number of Alzheimer’s patients continues to grow, Lynda Tanner, president and CEO of VNA Health, said it is something they see very regularly in their care facilities.
Currently more than 6 million Americans have Alzheimer’s, though that number is expected to climb to 13 million by 2050, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
“Our medical director (at VNA) calls it a tsunami that’s coming, and the country is not prepared for how to care for all these patients,” Ms. Tanner told the News-Press.
Since starting music therapy as a method to care for Alzheimer’s patients, VNA has seen profound success with the program, Ms. Tanner said.
“We’ve seen patients that are non-responsive, and then we find out what their favorite music or song is and then they will open their eyes, they’ll smile, they’ll converse for a short period of time, and to the loved one, that’s like the most special thing in the world,” Ms. Tanner said.
In remembrance of her late husband, Mrs. Campbell released “Gentle on my Mind,” a memoir detailing her marriage to the country legend, including their journey through overcoming alcoholism and drug addiction before fighting Alzheimer’s together. While the film “I’ll Be Me” covers the early and middle stages of the disease, Mrs. Campbell’s memoir provides details on the late and final stage of the disease, which ultimately took the singer’s ability to communicate in the end.