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Study finds music therapy effective in Alzheimer's patients

LYNNWOOD, Wash. -- It's said that music soothes the savage beast, and it turns out a favorite song can also calm the most agitated Alzheimer's patient.

Fuzzy memories come into focus when Cora Freeberg hears a familiar song. Music has become an alternative to medicine at Quail Park in Lynnwood.

Freeberg is part of a pilot project to see how music therapy can alter the aggressive behaviors of people living with dementia. Residents who've really struggled adjusting to the secured memory care community were hand picked to participate in the project.

Music therapist Karley Hawley dug deep into the patients' pasts to pick 20 songs that bring up the best memories. For Freeberg, that means songs that give a sense of calm and don't trigger vivid childhood memories of her father's murder.

"The songs that really seemed to allow her to feel who she is as a person," Hawley said.

Each of the participants gets a song book catered to them and an iPod with their playlist. The technology becomes a tool for the team when simply talking people down doesn't work.

When residents try to leave because they're agitated or anxious, staff can now just play their iPod and console or comfort them and maybe even bring them joy.

The study found that participants had increased memory recall, decreased agitation, less need for some of their medicine, and some patients even spoke for the first time since their diagnosis.

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