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Seeking treatments and a cure for Alzheimer’s disease and related conditions, while striving to improve the lives of those afflicted by dementia.
Does music have the power to soothe a ravaged brain? Or even unlock memories lost to dementia?
Gregory Cole, interim director of the Mary S. Easton Center for Alzheimer’s Disease Research at UCLA (UCLA-Easton Center), hopes so. The center’s Tunes for Alzheimer’s Patients program (TAP) was created in partnership with the nonprofit organization Music & Memory. Using donated iPods, MP3 players, headphones and iTunes gift cards, TAP provides music therapy through personalized playlists of music from earlier, happier times in the lives of dementia patients.
“Studies have found that music therapy can reduce agitation and anxiety, decrease depression and improve quality of life,” says Cole.
The staff at Pacifica Senior Living in Northridge, Calif., can testify to the benefits of TAP. They’ve seen how a daily dose of music can lessen patient distress and boost appetite and recollection. For one resident, a onetime musician with advanced Alzheimer’s, listening to country-western tunes has prompted him to pick up his guitar and play again, without missing a beat.
Helping ease the debilitating effects of dementia is just one facet of the work done at the UCLA-Easton Center. Founded in 1991 as the UCLA Alzheimer’s Disease Center, the entity was renamed the UCLA-Mary S. Easton Center for Alzheimer’s Disease Research in 2008, thanks to a $10-million donation from UCLA alumnus and benefactor James Easton, in honor of his mother, who died from Alzheimer’s. But the center’s mission remained the same: to better understand Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, develop new medications and treatments, improve the quality of life for patients and caregivers and, ultimately, find a cure — through research, clinical trials and programs such as TAP.
The challenges are daunting. Of the top 10 causes of death in the United States, Alzheimer’s disease is the only one that cannot be prevented, cured or even slowed. But the UCLA-Easton Center hopes to change that by focusing on pre-dementia diagnosis and new therapeutic agents that impede the progression of Alzheimer’s.
“We are very excited about where the field is going,” Cole says. “We think we are on the cusp of having drugs that, for the first time, can actually slow the course of the disease.”
Meanwhile, a little Sinatra couldn’t hurt.
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