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Seniors using music to keep memories alive

Posted at 10:23 PM, Nov 09, 2017
and last updated 2017-11-10 00:23:48-05

Although it's difficult for him to remember some things that happened earlier in the day, something John Maisch won't forget? The lyrics to some of his favorite songs.

"Once in a while, you've got to glance down and take a peek at a few lyrics I guess," he said during a community-wide sing-a-long.

He's 91 years old and lives at the Copper Canyon Alzheimer's Special Care Center, an assisted living community in Tucson where all of the residents suffer from some kind of neuro-cognitive disorder.

Terri Waldman is the administrator of Copper Canyon. She believes when it comes to memory disorders, it's important to focus on what memories are still there, instead of the ones that are lost.

"We know that the neurons in the brain are dying," Waldman said. "Those long-term memories are the last to go. It's [Music] something that is constantly with us, and it follows us through our life."

One of the things that tends to stick around for longer, according to Waldman, is music. Because of this, the residents at Copper Canyon get a daily dose of music.

"We see residents who may not be able to speak -- or if they do speak languages -- you can't comprehend it," Waldman said. "However, they can sing a song. They can remember every single word of that song. And that's one of the reasons why we do music so much, because it brings joy to those folks who sometimes don't feel that they can communicate."

Morgen Hartford is the regional director for the Desert Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association in Southern Arizona. He agrees that music can often be a way for people suffering from neuro-cognitive disorders to communicate better.

"We rely so much on our words to communicate, but for people with dementia, sometimes those words don't connect," Hartford said. "When we have a conversation, it doesn't always make sense. But putting on a piece of music from the person's background or childhood, or some time in their life when they were really loving life, it can resonate a lot more."

Maisch thinks the music helps bring back certain moments of life, helping that person's memory out.

"It helps a great deal. Along with the melody and the association with the lyrics, it's very helpful," he said. "I want to keep music in my life forever. As long as my heart permits it."