Music Mends Minds

Irwin Rosenstein, a former real estate attorney, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2006. Because of the side effects from his Parkinson’s medications, dosages were reduced. After that, his wife noticed his piano playing changed.

“He was like a thirsty plant being watered,” says Carol Rosenstein.

Music, like life’s other pleasurable experiences, releases dopamine, the body’s own feel-good chemicals. And through playing and singing, Irwin was feeling more of it. He also participated in an intergenerational respite program at UCLA where he played the piano and mentored students. The experience changed his life and the lives of others, too.

A New Life Purpose

Irwin and his wife co-founded Music Mends Minds, a nonprofit organization devoted to seniors and patients afflicted with cognitive decline and neurodegenerative diseases. This usual musical enterprise creates bands by inviting high school and college music students to play and rehearse with musical seniors who have various disorders. Music serves as the common thread that connects young and old in a meaningful way.

“By playing together, they must coordinate their musical activities,” says Marco Iacoboni, MD, UCLA Semel Institute and advisory board member of Music Mends Minds. “I believe this form of human attunement is very powerful and beneficial to the mind.”

Two years after the launch of Music Mends Minds, there are nine bands in the program, with hopes to expand nationwide. Each band creates its own unique identity. For example, the “Home for Heroes” band has attracted veteran musicians and singers who are low functioning.

“They are becoming more of a percussion group with singers,” says Mrs. Rosenstein. “They’re having fun and look forward to every rehearsal.”

Together Is Better

The musicians are more than entertainers; they are ambassadors—communicating what’s possible because of and in spite of a debilitating disease. Playing in a band may also help slow the progression of dementia, as some studies have suggested.

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