Swansongs - Learning about the impact Music can have in Alzheimer's care and Wellbeing
John Michael Kohler Arts Center
November 18 2004, 7:30 pm
In the hands of master musician Professor Paul Robertson, music magically provides us with profound insight into the internal experience of people living with this disease—their journey into the nknown—with a precision that words alone cannot capture. Actual care-giving stories, thoughtfully recounted by Alzheimer’s care specialist Dr. John Zeisel, represent the care partners’ experience—the challenges and opportunities they face and the gifts of patience, insight, and compassion they receive throughout this process. The performance provides all those touched by and curious about this pandemic a unique and thoughtful way to approach the perilous journey into the unknown that is Alzheimer’s disease—a journey for which we are all ill-equipped.
Over 5 million people in North America currently live with Alzheimer’s disease. Their
Care partners of people living with Alzheimer’s are under continual and extreme stress. They get seriously ill more often than do others their age. If they do not take care of themselves with knowledge, respite, and stress-reducing activities, they cannot take care of the people they love.
Alzheimer’s disease and dementia
Dementia represents a condition in which damage to a person’s brain results in his/her losing certain capacities. Alzheimer’s disease is one cause of dementia—albeit 70% to 80% of dementias. Damage in Alzheimer’s disease is evident in plaques and tangles in the brain that result in specific symptoms. These include loss of the ability to carry out complex sequences of tasks—“executive function,” loss of impulse-control, difficulty retrieving memories and laying down new ones, and eventually diminished control over physical functions. One part of the brain—the emotional center that rests in the amygdala—remains less damaged until late in the disease and thus provides a key to successful nonpharmacological treatment. Symptoms are far more complex and intriguing than the simple distinction between short-term and long-term memory.
The musical excerpts in Swansongs illustrate the following Alzheimer-related themes and are drawn from the following sources.
J. S. Bach (1685-1750) “Allemanda” from the Partita in D minor performed by Paul
The comfort of home
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” performed by
Hard-wired memories underlie our sense of identity
Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) “The Seven Last Words of Christ from the Cross”
Intense emotional states can shatter our sense of home
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) “Cavatina” from String Quartet Op. 130: Medici
Living with another
Richard Strauss (1864-1949) “Capriccio Sextet”: Medici Quartet & friends, Nimbus
Being shut out by the other
“Grundge,”Judas Priest, Metal Mix ’73-’93 CD Disk 1/ Track 7
Fear in dementia
Bedrich Smetana (1824-1884) Quartets 1 (‘From My Life’) and 2: Medici Quartet,
Wandering in dementia
Gabriel Fauré (1854-1924) “String Quartet”: Medici Quartet, Nimbus Records
Faith in the enduring self—the spirit prevails
J. S. Bach (1685-1750) “Sarabanda” from the Partita in D minor performed by Paul
Treatment Tips from Swansongs
• Don’t say “No.” “No” is a powerful emotive word that easily negates a person’s
• Accept the person’s reality about events and time. Just like you don’t want
• Make sense of everything. If a person says something that doesn’t make sense to
• Introduce yourself—even to your mother. She knows who you are. Reminding her
• Don’t “test.” Never point to someone and ask: “Do you remember who this is?” or
• Look to yourself or another cause for aggression and agitation. There is usually
• Control yourself—respond gently to the lack of impulse control.
• Live in the moment—stay connected to the person when you are with them. The
• With your help they can feel successful. If a person can’t do every part of a task, if
• Remember people living with Alzheimer’s have all their memories. It’s just a matter
• Use music to evoke deep memories. Singing songs that were part of important
• Have faith that the person you love and care for is there—and act on it.
John Zeisel & Paul Robertson
Dr. John Zeisel received his Ph.D. in sociology from Columbia University and has
Dr. Zeisel makes careful distinction between treatment research, aimed at the millions of people who have and will develop Alzheimer’s symptoms now and in the future, and cure research aimed at reducing the occurrence of the disease—stressing the need for knowledge and research in both areas. As a member of the Board of the Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture, he is acutely aware of the link between science and art.
Through Artists for Alzheimer’sTM, an initiative of The Hearthstone Alzheimer’s Family
Paul Robertson’s lifelong passion for exploring the implicit meanings of music has
Along with his busy concert schedule, he is in constant international demand as a
In 2001 Paul was awarded a fellowship by the British National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts [NESTA] to explore the musical, mathematical, and spiritual foundations of Bach’s work for unaccompanied violin. Swansongs was significantly informed from his work as a NESTA Fellow.
Paul is presently working on a project linking music to management. The project—The
visiting professor at both Kingston and Bournemouth Universities, and acts as an advisor to a number of research groups in universities worldwide. Paul recently delivered his inaugural lecture as visiting professor to the Copenhagen Business School.
Websites for further information:
Hearthstone Alzheimer Care www.TheHearth.org
Paul Robertson www.MusicMindSpirit.org.uk
Artists for Alzheimer’s Program www.ArtistsForAlzheimers.org
The Alzheimer’s Association www.Alz.org
John Michael Kohler Arts Center www.jmkac.org
The Gulbenkian Foundation, London
The Hearthstone Family Foundation, Lexington, MA
Artists for Alzheimer’s Program
The Study Society, London
The Caritas Project, Manchester, UK
The “Songtrees” Project, UK: The Music Mind Spirit Trust
and locally to
Frank G. and Frieda K. Brotz Family Foundation
Jim Pankow, Inc.
David and Sandra Sachse
Northland Plastics, Inc.
Universal Lithographers, Inc.
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