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A weekly look at creativity, arts, and culture in southwest Michigan, hosted by Zinta Aistars.Fridays in Morning Edition at 7:50am and at 4:20pm during All Things Considered.

Art Beat: Music For Memories

Steve Bennett
Real Big Marketing LLC

As the U.S. population ages, we’re hearing more about dementia. New Friends and Vibrant Life co-founder and music director Dean Solden has come up with a unique approach to improving the quality of life for the dementia patients at his assisted living facilities. He does it with music.

“Dementia is the overall term for brain disease,” Solden says. “There are many, many types of dementia. Alzheimer’s is the most prevalent. About 50 percent, from my understanding, of dementia is Alzheimer’s.”

A conversation with Dean Solden

Solden founded Vibrant Life senior living communities in 1997 with the premise of bringing quality of life to seniors suffering from cognitive impairment that goes beyond just meeting their physical needs. He discovered that music could play a vital role.

“As a professional musician, I've always played for the residents. I’m a jazz piano player and singer-songwriter,” Solden says. “But lately, we’ve had this great new project. We formed a choir in one of our memory care communities.”

The Tic Toc Memory Care Choir has a music video of its performance of Solden’s song, “Don’t Define Me, Just Remind Me.”

“Music does something for everyone,” Solden says. “Most people can relate to the joy you feel listening to music on various levels. For dementia specifically, they are just people with dementia, so they get the joy that anybody gets out of music. But what a lot of people don’t know is that music can actually improve functioning and mood. Music helps the brain. Your brain has twelve main parts to it. When you listen actively or participate in music, it lights up all parts of your brain. Music helps everything to do with the brain.”

Solden says patients in the Tic Toc Choir were able to remember complex musical pieces he taught them. They appeared to show better retention after participating in the choir. He says music therapy can be a key factor in fighting dementia's memory loss.

“We don’t really lose memories, but rather we can lose access to memories,” he says. “They are still in the brain somewhere, and music can help the brain create new pathways to reach those memories.”

Listen to WMUK's Art Beat every Friday at 7:50 a.m. and 4:20 p.m.

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Zinta Aistars is our resident book expert. She started interviewing authors and artists for our Arts & More program in 2011.
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