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Unlocking Memories With Music

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It’s not until you meet and take a moment to chat with people, that you become aware of the circumstances that guide and shape their lives.  I recently had such a conversation which resonated with notes of struggle and triumph.

Michael Langley is someone who is striving to make a difference in his community.  He and his wife, Marie, want to change the conversation around dementia, as well as exploring more hopeful options for families.

Michael was born with spina bifida, so has particular empathy for those who face challenges in daily life.  He understands that others sometimes impose low expectations based on a diagnosis. Doctors told his parents he would never walk; it took until he was seven but, with great and continuing effort, he walks.  He majored in psychology and sociology in university, studied piano and has certificates to teach piano and English as a Second Language.  His current work is the culmination of his own early experiences and that of supporting two parents with dementia.  

Michael and his wife worked to find ways to support one parent with Alzheimer’s and one with vascular dementia. But despite their efforts, Michael watched first his father, Bob, and five years later, his mother, Molly, slip away after gradually losing their former selves.  Simple things, like chatting about old friends, were somehow the greatest loss.

Dementia causes loss of memory, of personal identity, of the ability to choose, loss of social connections with friends and family, and most devastatingly, of joy in daily living.  The grief of dementia is shared by the person struggling with the diagnosis and their families and caregivers.  The demands involved in caregiving and support are enormous and can be both isolating and exhausting. The only thing

Michael puts the issue in perspective:  Already inadequate numbers of well-trained caregivers and daunting numbers of those who will be diagnosed in the coming decades.  70% of those diagnosed are still living at home.  In group care, institutions face tight budgets and pressures to deliver cost-efficient care, as opposed to “best practice” solutions that improve outcomes for individuals.  A recent news story described a pilot to use robots to “call bingo and dispense medications”.

Someone is diagnosed with dementia every 67 seconds and two thirds of those diagnosed are women.  In 2010, the global cost of care had reached an estimated $604 billion worldwide.  Those numbers are expected to quadruple by 2050.  Michael’s

concern is that pressures on health care providers may prompt choices that are about economies of scale and less about what’s best for the individual. We clearly need a new model for both in-home and group care.

The MIND MUSIC program is for the individual with dementia and provides family support. Music and spoken word bring joy, restore shared experiences, and help recall memories.  Personalized music evokes life experiences and pleasure in the moment, as does text (such as favourite poetry and prayers).  The carefully edited playlists remain with families so that they and others in the extended community can continue to use them as a tool for shared communication.  Small-group work such as supported book groups restore connections with friends or give “neighbours” in group care a greater sense of joy and socialization.

The Langleys model their work on compassionate and creative programs all around the world.  People are “living with” dementia, Michael says, and should be able to do so with all the individuality that comes with being human.

For more information, please visit Michael’s website at A Piano Experience  The Langleys blog about dementia, maintain connections in global discussion groups, and are available to speak to groups.

Michael is happy to be able to now be able to give back to his community. The restoration of joy and new options for those living with dementia, is definitely the Langley’s calling.







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