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November 13, 2012

Alzheimer's Takes a Brief Backseat to Music

Even Alzheimer's disease cannot silence the likes of the eternal Rhinestone Cowboy, Glen Campbell.

A recent concert captivated the standing-room-only baby boomer audience who came to enjoy Campbell's sonorous voice as it echoed through the concert hall. During one of his last scheduled concerts before he stops touring permanently, Campbell was a picture of grace and inspiration to long-time fans.

As he belted out such heartfelt standards as "By the Time I Get to Phoenix," "Wichita Lineman" and "Gentle on my Mind," many fans, including a friend who attended, traveled back in time. The lyrics awakened long forgotten memories of people and places, of loves come and gone.

Sadly, the concert my friend attended will be one of Campbell's last. The singer has cancelled the final leg of his "Goodbye Tour," scheduled for Australia and New Zealand, because he isn't up to the long flight. Last year, Campbell was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. During the concert, my friend described how Campbell occasionally forgot the words to songs -- even as his fans sang along, even with the help of Teleprompters. He asked for patience as he struggled to find his place, explaining to the audience that he had "health issues."

Not only did he get the audience's patience, he inspired their reverence. The music that connected the crowd to so many emotions also connected them to Campbell in ways neither might have expected.

You see, Alzheimer's disease robs its victims of their capacity to do many things, but it does not take away their ability to appreciate and experience music.

A popular YouTube video, part of a documentary called Alive Inside, shows the story of Henry, a nursing home resident who is unresponsive and completely disengaged from the world. But when he's given an iPod, Henry comes alive. The music transforms him and he becomes communicative, alert and engaged. He is able to describe his spiritual connection to music in general and his love of Cab Calloway in particular. Music puts Henry in touch with a still-living, breathing part of himself.

Dr. Oliver Sacks, the renowned neurologist, described by the New York Times as "the poet laureate of medicine" has studied the therapeutic impact that music has on the brain. I'm not in that league, but I've seen the impact that music has on the brain as well.

To read more of this post by Jody Gastfriend, LICSW, check out her blog at



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