The sound of music lights up Alzheimer's patients in Boise

BOISE, Idaho (KBOI) -- Dick Hay, who served on submarines in the Navy, loves Willie Nelson, although he can't tell you that himself.

The 82-year-old suffers from advanced Alzheimer's disease, as his wife Mary Lou explains.

"Ronald Reagan used to call it the long goodbye," she said.

Unable to communicate, withdrawn and often disoriented, Dick perks right up when connected to headphones and an Ipod.

"We're amazed with it," said Mary Lou. "How it can calm him. He will start humming along with it, move his hands, which he did not do before."

While doctors look for ways to prevent Alzheimer's, long term care social workers have to treat those who already have it, and they find music goes a long way.

The state Veterans Home in Boise is the first Veterans Home in Idaho to use a new method founded by Dan Cohen to reawaken the minds of dementia and Alzheimer's patients through music.

Twenty-nine iPods have been deployed throughout the home and 29 more are on order. The goal is to get iPods for all 167 beds in the home.

The program is funded primarily through donations.

It's called Music and Memory and is chronicled in the award-winning documentary "Alive Inside", which can be seen August 21st at The Flicks in Boise.

The documentary illustrates music's power to reach parts of the brain that remain intact, even late in the onset of Alzheimer's, and evoke memories.

"This project is designed to have the best effectiveness in terms of reducing agitation, decreasing the needs for medications and just overall improvement of well being for people with dementia," said Oni Kinberg, director of social services at the Idaho State Veterans Home in Boise. "We get people listening to their own music, and when they listen to their music what we find is they light up."

At the Boise home, patients in an almost vegetative state are seen tapping their toes as they listen to their iPods.
And it's also beneficial for those who don't have dementia, as Navy vet Richard Nelson explains.

"Morale," he said. "There's nothing to do in here. So I turned to music."

Singer songwriter Don McLean once wondered if music can save your mortal soul.

These aging warriors may not be able to speak for themselves, but it seems they know the answer.