A Bright Note in an Often-Dark Symphony

Most of us have a favorite song, musical group or a style of music we especially enjoy. For senior adults with Alzheimer’s disease, reconnecting with that music can generate a bright note in an otherwise challenging period of their lives.

Musicians play for and with seniors through Mind&Melody, a nonprofit that got its start at the Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College. The nonprofit implements music programs at health care facilities, nursing homes, day centers and assisted living facilities. The work is especially important in Florida, where 540,000 people are living with Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

More than 5.7 million people in the U.S. suffer from Alzheimer’s, a disease which has a profound effect on its victims, robbing them of their memory as it progresses, and eventually claiming their lives.

While there is no cure for the degenerative disease and few medical interventions can slow its progression, there are tools and techniques – such as music – that can improve quality of life.

“Through the power of music, we re-engage static minds and infuse them with new life at long-term care facilities and at home,” said Cristina Rodriguez, Mind&Melody president and co-founder.

The non-profit has scaled up significantly since the initial light bulb moment Rodriguez and Lauren Koff, her co-founding partner, had as juniors at FAU, when they researched the effects of music on neurocognitive disorders. It started as a thesis idea and evolved into a quality improvement project they carried out in 2014 with the Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing’s Memory and Wellness Center in Boca Raton.

“Since music stores information in many different parts of the brain, it can reach hidden areas that are spared by Alzheimer’s,” Rodriguez said. “This is what allows us to still connect with our loved ones through music even when it seems like hope is lost.”

Rodriguez recalls meeting a Mind&Melody participant who used to play the piano at his home quite often but stopped due to his dementia. “During one of our sessions, he gained the courage to improvise on the piano while a volunteer musician played her violin next to him,” she says. “It was a truly magical and impressive moment to witness. Moments like that are what led Lauren and I to abandon our original career paths and dedicate our lives to Mind&Melody.”

Since its early days as part of FAU Tech Runway’s Venture Class Program, musicians have performed with seniors and their caregivers more than a thousand times across the state.

As team members play live music and create musical activities with seniors in one-hour sessions, they are measuring engagement, socialization and mood, according to Rodriguez.

There is an increasing need for the work of Mind&Melody as the senior population grows exponentially. “Our vision is to bring Mind&Melody nationwide and worldwide,” Rodriguez said. “Music is a universal language. It has the ability to reach everyone regardless of their age, background and cognitive ability. It can transform a person, their life and their world.”

Photography credit: Amanda Smith Photography

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 Last Modified 9/18/18