Friday, November 11, 2011

The Power of Music To Make an Impact

In this blog post by AFA Teens Advisory Board member, Robbie Hynes, he shares his experiences playing music for residents with Alzheimer's disease and imparts how powerful its effects can be on individuals with the brain disorder.  

For the past several years I have been an active and proud member of AFA Teens. I first learned about the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America when I wanted to get further educated about the effects of Alzheimer’s disease, as well as the many ways in which doctors are working to find a cure for the disease. As a child growing up and witnessing my grandfather’s experience with this disease, I felt that I was unable to do anything but comfort him as much as possible. I concluded that if all of the brilliant doctors in the world couldn’t provide a cure, than what was I going to do?

When I entered high school I became more involved with AFA Teens through concerts that my siblings and I hold at assisted living facilities. I began to think of more significant ways in which I could contribute to help raise awareness of Alzheimer’s disease, and if possible see if music had any therapeutic value for individuals with the disease.

The way my family got involved in music started as individuals and more or less morphed into a traveling ensemble over time. We all play a string instrument. I play the viola; my oldest sister, Maggie, plays the cello; my younger brother and sister, Brigid and Tommy, both play the violin; and my youngest brother, Brendan, plays the viola. So, Maggie and I sat down one day and fished through all of the music we had in order to try and find a few pieces that would suit our wide array of skill levels (ages 7-18). We came across a book of simple classical numbers intended to be played by a quintet, and we rounded up the troops and held our first rehearsal.

It wasn’t long until we scheduled our first performance at the Norwell Knoll, an assisted living facility on the other side of town. When we arrived mid-day the director, Karen, greeted us outside the building and escorted us into the room where we would be playing. It was the first time the facility had had live music there. Karen said everyone was ready and waiting, and neither my siblings nor I had any idea of who or what to expect.

Walking into the room, we were welcomed by dozens of excited and rowdy residents. As my sister Maggie used to say when describing our “debut,” her first thought was, “How will they ever hear us?”

But something very different, very strange and very wonderful happened after we started playing. The room fell quiet, quiet enough to hear the vibrations of the strings, quiet enough to hear an older resident humming along in the back, quiet enough to even hear our own mistakes. And, that continued for 40 minutes until we finished.

The director and other staff members told us afterwards that they had never seen an “audience” there as quiet during a lunchtime event. The reaction we received that day prompted my older sister and me to focus our musical efforts on researching the possible impact of live music on cognition for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease.  It also served to deepen our relationship with AFA Teens, including holding an annual candle lighting ceremony as part of AFA’s annual National Commemorative Candle Lighting event.

As others look for a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, we’re doing our part to see if perhaps music may offer one building block toward improving quality of life for people with the disease.

1 comment:

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