Last month, at the Sundance Film Festival, a documentary about an exciting dementia care program, “Alive Inside,” was tabbed for the vaunted Audience Award in documentary films. The film centers on the power of music to stimulate the mind, even the mind of people with advanced dementia. A remarkable clip from the film has been available on youtube for nearly two years. The story is inspirational.
In Canada, one nursing home has had success in using music to improve the mood of residents instead of using sedating drugs to erase the mood of residents. And at Lemon Grove Care & Rehabilitation Center a nursing home near San Diego, staff are using the Music and Memory program with ipods to “stimulate the residents’ pleasure center and make them feel good.” The facility has also drastically cut its antipsychotic drug use.
The idea that music provides pleasure and can improve mood is certainly well known. The idea that people with dementia, even advanced dementia, can experience and continue to need pleasure is perhaps much less widely known.
Listening to music and other stimulating experiences like receiving a massage, eating delicious food, or sharing an embrace, make people feel good. Psychotropic drugs aimed to sedate and neutralize experience do not. For people with dementia, particularly those living in facilities without a lot of family contact, stimulating experience must be cultivated in order to thrive and have the quality of life worth living. When people feel well, they act well. When people feel badly, they often act badly.
It may sound simple and that’s because it is.