Music’s Effect on Alzheimer’s

Working with Glen Campbell, as his neurologist, has been a great privilege. I have always encouraged my patients with Alzheimer’s disease to avoid social withdrawal and remain engaged with family, friends, current events and various stimulating activities. It appears that social isolation and stagnation may serve to worsen and expedite cognitive decline.

Dr. Hart Cohen, Glen Campbell's neurologist treating his Alzheimer's Disease
Dr. Hart Cohen

As I reflect upon Glen’s activities during the past years, I have no doubt that his touring and performances as an entertainer and his interaction with family and friends helped to preserve his intellectual skills far longer than one would have predicted. Although most of us will never attain the fame and professional standing of a musical genius like Glen, it is not beyond our reach to strive for ongoing socialization with close family, friends and associates, as intellectual decline progresses.

Families must do all that is possible to prevent loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease from falling into the trap of an isolated existence devoid of interesting and joyful interactions.

A simple daily outing to a coffee shop or a brief session with children and grandchildren may do much to preserve a dignified and meaningful life for patients suffering from dementia. Glen’s case represents a most unusual phenomenon, in which an enormously talented individual somehow managed to carry on with musical pursuits, entertaining many thousands, even as dementia progressed to a more advanced stage. Much has been written about the unique role of music vis-à-vis intellectual function and I have no doubt that Glen’s persistence in the musical arena helped to preserve intellectual functioning far longer than would have been expected.

It is thought that the enjoyment and experience of music may help to stimulate memory and other cognitive functions. It probably behooves families to make music available to patients who are otherwise homebound much of the time, as this may stimulate intellectual activity and enhance quality of life. I have learned much from participating in Glen’s care; I hope Glen’s accomplishments will motivate patients and families to carry on with the quest for social engagement and pleasurable activities, such as the enjoyment of music, as aging and intellectual decline inexorably progress.

Hart Cohen MD FRCPC

Dr. Hart Cohen is a neurologist in Los Angeles, California and is affiliated with Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. He received his medical degree from University of Toronto Faculty of Medicine and has been in practice for more than 20 years. He is one of 65 doctors at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center who specialize in Neurology.