The 5th Dementia: Musical group offers relief from neurological issues

World Today

The 5th Dementia: Musical group offers relief from neurological issues

Many people say music has healing powers; not just for those who listen, but also for those who make it. In Los Angeles, a band of people suffering from neurological issues is gaining attention from the medical community. 

CGTN’s Patrice Howard reports.
Follow Patrice Howard on Twitter @PatriceReports

A decade has passed since Carole Rosenstein, the founder of a non-profit named “Music Mends Minds,” first noticed a change in her husband Irwin.

“He was not able to bring a smile onto his face. And I would question, how come?” Carole recalls.

The answer came in the form of a diagnosis: Parkinson’s disease and dementia. The illness has chipped away at Irwin’s cognitive function, but if you get him to a piano, you would never know what is happening.

“He would go to the piano in a very low place, and I would see that as he was playing the piano. He would suddenly have life breathed into him again,” Carole says with delight.

Music helped Irwin when medicine could not, so Carol decided to start a band for her husband and others like him. They named it “The 5th Dementia.”

The band welcomes musicians and singers who are afflicted with neurological issues like dementia, Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s.

“There are people who cannot really carry on a conversation, but they can play hundreds of songs,” Kelly Hodell, a volunteer who plays harmonic, explains. “For some reason the memory doesn’t forget music. It forgets everything else, but not music.”

Their muscle memory does most of the work, even if they can no longer read music. There are no wrong notes here, only smiles and support.

The musicians and their family members agree: music is making a difference for them. They say band members leave practice feeling energized and less symptomatic.

Dr. Jeff Bronstein, professor of neurology at UCLA, says that music may not be a cure for cognitive decline, but it is a therapy that works.

“When we see the people in this program, they come alive,” Dr. Bronstein says. “They are more interactive, they are more animated, they are more functional. If you can treat depression, for example, with music, that’s wonderful and replaces an anti-depressant. I think the social aspects might be the most important part.”

To support the band, Irwin and Carol founded a non-profit named “Music Mends Minds.” They are now working with Rotary International to start bands like “The 5th Dementia” in cities worldwide.

“We have now a new family, moving together, using music as the common thread, and we have converted so much suffering into pure joy.” Carole says.

For proof that the music therapy is working… just watch for a smile.