I have had the opportunity to spend time with people who have Alzheimer's disease and their relatives. From these experiences, it is clear that music has an ability to calm and relax people, even when nothing else works.

Ana Gamundi's Story

Ana Gamundi

Ana Gamundi, a 22-year-old student at the University of Miami, drove up to her grandparents house in her blue Toyota Corolla, ready to sit down for a quiet meal. When she walked into their home, the look on her grandfather's face told her that the quiet dinner would have to be just the two of them again.

Gamundi's grandmother was diagnosed 14 years ago with Alzheimer's, a disease that affects the perception, memory and judgment of about 5 million Americans. Her grandmother takes Seroquel, a drug normally given to bipolar patients, to help her calm down, but the medication doesn't always work.

While Gamundi enjoyed black beans, white rice and chicken with her grandfather, her grandmother stayed locked in her room.

“There are times when I go over and have lunch at her house when she will be happy and others when she can be really aggressive,” Gamundi said.

There is only one day out of every year when Gamundi said she knows she can expect her grandmother to be calm and happy: Christmas Eve.

“She is always calm on Christmas Eve whenever there is music playing,” Gamundi said. “She was really close to her church, so maybe the religious music we play on Christmas Eve calms her down and reminds her of her faith.”

Dr. Zoe Lewis, the author of “I Hope They Know: The Essential Handbook of Alzheimer's Disease and Care,” said that music's ability to ease depression in people with Alzheimer's disease, make wandering patients sit still and calm those who are otherwise aggressive has led to its use across the country in nursing homes like the Gainesville Health Care Center.

The Gainesville Health Care Center

Gainesville Health Care Center's Music-Listening Sessions

The Gainesville Health Care Center is pushing to have music-listening sessions at least 30 minutes a day because of the effect it has on residents.

The sounds of swing, country and rock 'n' roll from the '40s, '50s and '60s filled the air of a room the size of a high school classroom. Women and men ranging from age 50 to 80 sat at small tables in groups of no more than three and tapped, sang and listened to the sounds that brought them together. Aside from a love for music, they have one thing in common: Dementia- a disorder that affects perception, memory and judgment. They came to listen to music because it soothes them and does more to relax them than their medications, said the center's activities director.

Samantha Chmielewski said that even though most of the about 15 people in the room don't remember what they had for breakfast, none has failed to show up to the weekly music-listening sessions.

The activities department of the center is pushing to have more music sessions because of the peace it brings to the residents, Chmielewski said.

“Music is wired into the memory of our brain,” Lewis said. “If you hear a song from your childhood, it will be easily recognized. It can help someone deal with difficult behaviors.”

Instead of using medication to calm an Alzheimer's patient who is aggressive or hostile, Chmielewski said they will ask a family member or friend what kind of music the patient liked in their youth.

“We had one woman who liked Latin music because she was Spanish,” she said. “Whenever she got combative, we would play music, and it would calm her.”

Harry, a man in his 60s with coffee-brown skin, walked into the room as if he were in a daze. He sat down and absentmindedly placed his dark blue baseball cap on the table. The peace in his deep brown eyes shined through as a smile slowly spread across his face.

“Cotton-Eye Joe” can be heard playing from the silver stereo placed on a rectangular table in the front of the room.

“Harry usually likes wandering through the halls of the center, but when we play music, he always sits down at that table to listen,” Chmielewski said.

Chmielewski approached Harry with a warm smile, asked if he enjoys country music, gently squeezed his hand and thanked him for coming before walking to the next table.

Imagine, a blonde woman who appeared to be in her 50s, wore a pink wristband, a pink T-shirt and brown pants. She sat at the table directly in front of Harry and tapped her fingers to the rhythm of the song being played: “Yakety Yak.”

“Dooo.. didi...do,” she sang with a grin on her face.

“Did you listen to this music when you were young?” Chmielewski asked.

“Not quite when I was young,” Imagine mumbled. “I listened with my daughter.”

She didn't remember her daughter's name, nor did she remember the name of the song. All she remembered was listening to it at one point, and the joy it gave her.

According to the American Music Therapy Association, a nonprofit organization devoted to increasing access to and awareness of music therapy, research shows that music therapy, including listening to familiar songs and playing musical instruments, benefits dementia patients by promoting wellness, managing stress, alleviating pain, enhancing memory, improving cognitive function and providing unique opportunities for interaction with family, friends and caretakers.

Music therapy helps families reconnect with their loved ones, Lewis said.

“It takes someone to see it to believe it.”