Sunday, February 12, 2012

Let's not be mousy about funding Alzheimer's research, ok?

One of my favorite clients I perform for is the Wood Glen Alzheimer’s Community located in Dayton, OH. While I enjoy all of my accounts, there's something unique about Wood Glen. Wood Glen accepts only  patients with Alzheimer's disease and related dementia. This group loves music and to watch them interact with the music while I perform is quite interesting. 

Some groups I'll stimulate with a lot of mental games. Musical Trivia, Name that tune, complete the lyric, etc...I can't do too much of that here for obvious reasons. However, make no mistake, they as a group, get involved. They tend to like it fast, with a hard beat and loud. This group in particular favors the old R&B, oldies and early Country. Maybe a little Big Band and Gospel thrown in for good measure. This means I'm playing a wide variety of music during my sixty minutes I have with them. 

As the residents are brought into the performance area, there's not much talking. I play at 10:00am there on a weekday every few months and everything is pretty low key. As the activity professionals bring their people down from the units, the crowd begins to grow and tops out at around 75 people or so. Some are more restless than others and there's an occasional outburst but this is all part of the Alzheimer's landscape. It comes with the territory. 

Many of these folks, if I asked them what does 2+ 2 equal, wouldn't be able to respond. If I asked them their name, they might remember, they might not. Basic stuff most of us take for granted is a challenge for these folks. It runs across all races, religions, ethnicities and political persuasions.It is frighteningly indiscriminate in who it attacks. 

There is something about music that slices through the fog. Not just my music, but music in general. That said, there does seem to be a difference between live music performed at a good volume and a radio in the corner turned on at a low level. As I go through the various tunes I play during my hour, at any given time in various spots around the room, its like someone threw a switch. Suddenly these patients who were mentally a thousand miles away just a few moments react. They aren't jumping up and dancing, mind you, (well, a few try) but they respond in different ways. Some begin to move their feet. Some tap their hands on their thighs in rhythm to the beat of the music. Many smile or begin to sing the words. The right words, in fact... They applaud, hoop and holler in approval after each songs ends. I suspect its like this for most live musical performances. I don't think I've come upon some magical sequence of songs that is responsible for this. 

Last week I watched a gentlemen I'd never seen before enjoy my program. He was about ten rows back and seated in the middle of an aisle. I think he was in a wheelchair. What he was doing blew my mind. To explain this, I should explain a bit about the keyboard I use. In its simplest form, its an incredibly powerful keyboard that allows me to sound like I have a full band or orchestra at my control. The various sounds/instruments are amazingly accurate and convincing to the ear. As I'm performing a tune, I'm able to "solo" over the verses with a wide variety of sounds. I might select a saxophone. I might select a trumpet or a distortion guitar or a harmonica. Or I might use the piano. Whatever the tunes calls for, I use. 

Back to this gentleman in my audience that day. I noticed as I played the piano, he would move his hands above his lap as if he were playing an actual piano. Then in one tune, I used a tenor sax sound. This man...correctly... positioned his hands in front of his chest as if he was playing a sax! A few songs later I used a guitar sound and sure enough, this man began to "air guitar" in his seat. I couldn't throw him. He successfully emulated a clarinet and a flute before I was done. 

After the program was over, whatever connection had been there vanished as if a fog or puff of smoke had just faded into the air. Gone. Zip. Nothing. 

This week it was announced that a research team from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, OH had discovered a potential breakthrough in Alzheimer's treatment. They found that a skin cancer drug, bexarotene, had reversing effects on memory issues within mice. Bexarotene has been around for a while and was selected by this research team due to its ability to reduce the toxic protein buildup in various kinds of cells that impairs cognitive function. The mice they gave the drug to showed a 25% improvement in cognitive function within three hours. They saw a return to "normal" brain function after just three days time of regular doses. 

Read the entire article about this here in Scientific American. Its fascinating. 


The national Alzheimer's Association has a great website with a wealth of accurate information about Alzheimer's Disease. You can find it here .


President Obama has announced his plans to increase funding for Alzheimer's by $50 Million dollars immediately, with an additional increase in the 2013 budget of $80 million. Some will ask how is this to be funded? Fair question. As we're mostly out of Iraq and we're on a course to see most US troops out of Afghanistan within the next year or so, there will surely be a cost savings from ending those operations. Its been said that one day...a single day...of military operations in those two wars carries a hefty price tag of roughly $720 Million dollars a day

That's $5.04 Billion a week. Unreal, eh? Are we really any safer than we were ten years ago? Are Kabul and Bagdag on their way to becoming shining beacons of democracy? Hmmm...

If at some point over the next few months you hear President Obama attacked for "more reckless spending" keep an  eye on this funding for Alzheimer's research and treatment. I think to redirect about 11% of the money we spend on a single day of war to a cause like this is well worthwhile. 

In other words, Mr. Obama, please don't be mousy about this funding increase...


No comments:

Post a Comment