In rehearsal for their last holiday concert, the Fifth Dementia band was singing the tune made famous in the film Casablanca: “The fundamental things apply, as time goes by.” The band is living proof that music is one of those things, even as everything else fades.
Carol Rosenstein saw the impact that music had on her husband Irwin after he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. Despite his struggles, “he would light up” when he sat at the piano. Carol started the Fifth Dementia band in West Los Angeles for other families dealing with neurodegenerative illness, expanding that successful community into a nonprofit called Music Mends Minds.
Every 30 seconds, someone is diagnosed with dementia. The patient population is expected to double in the next 20 years.
Facing this reality, Carol sees it her responsibility to bring “music and information to the world.” Music Mends Minds also supports research on music and cognition, as it has been shown that listening to and playing music may support cognitive function and stimulate dopamine production. While there are no cures for neurodegenerative diseases, music helps patients – and, crucially, their families – cope with the condition.
“You can see the journey of these people: they are returned to their self-worth, confidence, and identities, [as they] work with the music. They rise to the occasion, whole and healthy in the moment of music making,” Carol describes.
For families and caregivers, as much as for the patients, the bands offer a chance to socialize and support each other in the face of what can be an isolating experience. As Carol notes, it “gives [people] an opportunity to perch, in the hours of darkness.”
There are now 18 bands across the U.S. and one in the UK, many of which were formed through the sponsorship of Rotary International. The original band is also the subject of a new documentary, “The Fifth Dementia,” which was released on all streaming platforms last November.
The group welcomes interest from potential members who can learn more by calling 818-326-0500 or visiting www.musicmendsminds.org.
By Anne Wallentine