Music and Alzheimer's

  • Nov. 5, 2014
  • #8483

Patients with Alzheimer’s respond beautifully to one-on-one attention and music through this innovative therapy.

Hi, I’m Joni Eareckson Tada with a story about music and ministry.

Welcome to "Joni and Friends", I’m so glad you’ve taken these minutes to join me here, and I have an amazing story to share, given that November is National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. And oh, what a sad and difficult condition Alzheimer’s is, right? Perhaps you know someone struggling with this disease, or maybe somebody in your family – maybe you’ve even had to place a loved one in a structured care facility because of his or her special needs. Well, if you’re looking for a way to connect – I mean really connect – with your loved one suffering from Alzheimer’s, think about this. The music department at Ball State University has a course on music and memory. And student volunteers have been able to put into practice what they’ve been taught through visits to a local nursing home where there are several Alzheimer’s patients who are in the advanced stages of that disease. And this is what they do. The students bring in their IPods with playlists programmed with music that would be familiar to elderly people – yes, even hymns.

Abby, one of the student volunteers spent one Sunday afternoon in the dining room of Ivy Hall, a nursing home, to share time with Gene, an individual with advanced Alzheimer’s. She sat in front of Gene and using a headphone splitter (it’s a “Y” shaped device that allows two people wearing headphones to listen to the same IPod), Abby put an ear bud in Gene’s ear. She then turned on the music. Because of the splitter, Abby was able to carefully observe Gene's reaction to each song. But that’s not all. Abby didn’t just sit there watching Gene; she made eye contact, she kept smiling at him, she held his hand, and bobbed her head to the music. She sang along and encouraged him to sing along. Together, they sang "Amazing Grace" and several other beautiful hymns. And it truly was amazing, because nobody knew that Gene would – or could – remember those hymns. But somewhere, somehow, deep in his mind, the powerful words of those timeless hymns were unlocked. And that day, for the first time in a long time, Gene was able to sing praise to God.

Yes, it took time. Yes, it meant that Abby had to invest her afternoon in the whole session. And, yes, there was lots of hand holding and head bobbing and smiling, but it all paid off. At the end of the session, Gene tended to talk more, smile more, and sing along. He even had eye contact. Another student volunteer who did the same thing at that nursing home observed that “[Alzheimer’s patients] also tend to sing more, sing louder, and move more. Sharing [the experience together] really enhances the music's impact.” And I guess that’s the thing. It was the music that had an important “together” impact. So many Alzheimer’s patients do things alone, but the volunteers at Ball State observed that the residents really respond when listening together with someone rather than listening alone.

The Bible says that two really are better than one. And Abby and the other volunteers from Ball State consider those visits the highlight of their whole study program. Friend, I would love for you to see a video of the ministry that music can have in the lives of people who have Alzheimer’s. I posted it today on my radio page at and you really have to take a minute to watch it; it’s that powerful! And Lord willing, it may give you an idea on how you, too, can have a ministry together with those who have Alzheimer’s in your church family. I’m looking forward to you dropping by

© Joni and Friends


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