Music and Dementia: Changing brain chemistry one song at a time – The work of Music Mends Minds
For Carol Rosenstein, founder and executive director of Music Mends Minds, Inc., music is about more than playing, more than jamming, more than social interactions… It’s about brain chemistry.
“Science shows us that playing a musical instrument creates a high level of brain engagement. It’s comparable to a full body workout for the brain, and that’s without even going to a gym!”
Music Mends Minds was born in Los Angeles, California out of the experience Carol had with her husband Irwin who struggled with symptoms of dementia due to Parkinson’s Disease for many years. When he rediscovered the piano in the later stages of his disease, it was like he woke up from a slow, debilitating dream. Carol remembers the experience well:
“Playing the piano, after 10 or 15 minutes he would just reengage. It was as if I had just given him medication! Our neurologist said ‘Carol, you’re watching the power of music changing brain chemistry!’”
Not long after that, Carol and Irwin had their first community jam session and the first band was formed: the 5th Dementia. Clearly on to something, they created Music Mends Minds — a nonprofit that creates musical support groups for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, Parkinson’s, traumatic brain injury, PTSD, and other neurological disorders. She recalls their first therapeutic jam session well…
“We set a date and a time, I printed a banner, I was really just following instinct at that point. Then 30 strangers arrived and in time four of them gravitated to instruments. Someone to the Steinway, another to the drums, Irwin took a saxophone and out of pocket came a harmonica. Just like that they bonded as brothers, they were happy campers. And then PBS called to tell the story on the 7 o’clock news, and another 150 calls came in!”
Telling the story Carol lights up and hardly a sentence comes out without an enormous smile and a hearty laugh. Music has clearly been an elixir for her and the communities that Music Mends Minds serves, improving cognitive function and quality of life for so many.
“Finding mates, finding happiness, using music as the tool, this is why it’s so healing, so successful, so powerful.”
Now several years in, Music Mends Minds is working on a partnership with Rotary Clubs International to set up singing groups all across the world. They hope to be featured in a large spread in The Rotarian, the organizations’ magazine, this spring.
Ironically, the coronavirus pandemic helped them grow as they discovered video conferencing, which became pivotal in their journey.
“The statistics of these diseases are scary: every 3 seconds someone is diagnosed with dementia, every 65 seconds with Alzheimer’s and every 5 minutes with Parkinson’s. We are literally in a pandemic of neurodegenerative diseases, bound for disaster if it weren’t for the music.”
For Music Mends Minds the coronavirus is going to eventually end, but the music is only gaining momentum!