Saturday, June 25, 2022

The difference it makes with Alzheimer’s disease

Craig Greusel entertains. Submitted photos

Craig Greusel entertains. Submitted photos

By Paula Robinson


In the lives of Alzheimer’s patients, the power of music to make a difference has been a well documented phenomenon. Research has shown that music alters the different components of the disease process through sensory, cognitive, emotional, behavioral and social impacts. Researchers have called it a “quality of life intervention.” Although there is no proof that music will stop the progression of the disease, nor will it actually cure it, what it does do is bring an individual the opportunity to experience pleasure and a sense of familiarity; competence when most often they are rapidly losing their cognitive abilities or developing immense confusion and an altered lack of social skills, attention span and concentration. Often there is a social withdrawal and an awkward sense of increased fragility involved.

According to the American Music Therapy Association, music therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish some individualized goals that are designed to promote wellness, manage stress, alleviate pain, enhance communication and provide unique opportunities for interaction.

In addition, clinically, music alters the chemicals melatonin, norepinephrine, and epinephrine; these chemicals are increased in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease after they listened to music regularly, which also increased their mood. Music can help to give participants a sense of purpose, keeping them connected when they are seemingly losing their autonomy.

According to Christo Pantev, a neuroscientist at the Rotman Research Center Institute in Canada, he witnessed a difference between those who were slipping over the edge, because one’s “memory begins to fade as the Alzheimer’s patient slides toward that dark abyss. But the last thing that goes, the last bit of memory he says, is the ability to remember music.”

What a simple yet amazing joy that we can provide to so many. This is why each Wednesday afternoon at Sanitasole Adult Day Services and ALF we have the privilege of having Craig Greusel, well known Marco Islander, director of music ministries for the Marco Lutheran Church, and a music specialist for the Collier County Public Schools working with our seniors to entertain, but more importantly engage them in music and all that it evokes.

Although individuals have unique personalities and heritages, they come together as one to enjoy the extraordinary singing with Craig while he strums on one of his various guitars. “I think this is a wonderful chance to open up the minds of these seniors. Yet it is so important in helping to unlock memories through music so that they not only relive some of the happiest times of their past, but experience life in the present day,” Greusel said.

Craig has been involved with our music program from its humble beginnings and, with us, he has witnessed firsthand those who normally can’t verbally communicate and have struggled to perform tasks, communicate in song, singing or humming the songs of their era, clapping, tapping their feet, swinging their arms, rocking or patting

Julie Domiano enjoys his music.

Julie Domiano enjoys his music.

in beat to the music which also may reciprocate affection and exhibit happiness whether it is to swing, Sinatra or Salsa. Others may sit and sway, using various muscle groups that may not be used during a daily exercise class; in others it encourages them to stand up and dance, and it is remarkable what he can teach them, too! I have participated in many sessions over the years and have enjoyed the enhanced spirit it brings to our program.

Most people associate music with an important event which can carry a wide array of emotions. Because the connection is so strong, hearing a tune long after the occurrence evokes a memory of it. The way music is able to shift moods, wandering, depression, agitation etc, is because of the rhythmic and or other well-rehearsed response that requires little or no cognitive or mental processing. Research shows that a person’s ability to engage with music, especially rhythm playing and singing, remain intact late into the disease process because, again, these activities do not mandate cognitive functioning for success. Some suggest that the selections from an individual’s young adult years, around ages 18 to 25, are most likely to have the greatest responses and the most potential for engagement. However, music from their childhood, folk songs, and dance tunes are always popular and can do the same.

Because Greusel has an infinite collection of all music which he can perform at a minute’s notice, we are never at a lack of genres. I consider Craig to be an outstanding musician as well as a very generous and patient person. He is so accommodating to all of us, including staff and myself look forward to his arrival each week. Greusel is really in synch with our clients, too; he can sense the group’s response, and while observing a person or group’s reaction to a particular arrangement he is able to quickly redirect his theme to maybe unfamiliar music which can also be beneficial because it carries no memories or emotions if need be. This can be a great choice when trying to develop new responses such as physical relaxation that can mange stress. He has also tested out some of his personal written work, and rehearsed with our seniors for several weeks teaching them new songs.

Researchers say that you need to help people reminisce and singing is an alternative to moving or touching according to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America because it is associated with safety and security from early life. “Any reciprocal engagement provides an opportunity for caregivers and care receivers to connect with one another, even when the disease has deprived families’ traditional forms of closeness.” Thank you, Craig and here’s to music, music, music!

Paula Camposano Robinson, RN, is co-founder and owner of Sanitasole Senior Health Services. This is an information-only column and is not intended to replace medical advice from a physician. Email or visit for more information. Phone: 239.394.9931.


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