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Fighting Alzheimer’s with Music: The Love Music Revival

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“Music in the soul can be heard by the universe.” ~Lao Tzu, 6th century BCE

The Love Music Revival performed last week at numerous assisted living centers and retirement homes in Lane County.

Since ancient times humans have used music and its soothing qualities to cure all sorts of ailments. In the Hebrew Bible, David played the harp to help King Saul ward off bad spirits. The Greek father of medicine and the origin of the Hippocratic Oath, Hippocrates, played music for patients with mental diseases, as early as 400 B.C.

The American Music Therapy Association describes the history of music as therapy:

“The idea of music as a healing influence which could affect health and behavior is as least as old as the writings of Aristotle and Plato. The 20th century profession formally began after World War I and World War II when community musicians of all types, both amateur and professional, went to Veterans hospitals around the country to play for the thousands of veterans suffering both physical and emotional trauma from the wars. The patients’ notable physical and emotional responses to music led the doctors and nurses to request the hiring of musicians by the hospitals.”

The official term “music therapy” began after the World Wars and has blossomed since then. Music therapy is used to address a large variety of ailments, including clinical depression, bipolar disorder, suicidal tendencies, strokes, heart disease, epilepsy, and Alzheimer’s.

A recent PBS report even reported the the power of music in helping Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords recover from her gunshot injury. Spencer Michels of PBS said,

“Giffords’ treatment with specially trained music therapists has called new attention to a field that’s been around at least 100 years. While research on the neurological effects of music therapy is in its infancy, what is known is that a number of regions in the brain are activated by listening to music. And scientists say the brain responds to music by creating new pathways around damaged areas.”

Ron and Jean

Ron Lodge and Jean Palmer met in Kingman, Arizona at a 2009 St. Valentine’s Day dance. Ron was singing at the event.

Raised in Eugene, Oregon and a lifelong lover of singing and music, Ron was active in the Eugene signing community since a child.

Since starting Love Music Revival, Ron and Jean — who perform under their stage names, “Ronald Dee” and “Jean Marie” —have put on over 500 shows.

Ron says,

“I’ve been involved SPEPSQSA [now the Barbershop Harmony Society], the Men’s Harmony Society, since 1953. I sang in district and regional quartet championships and I have a medal I wear proudly from Men’s Cascade Chorus from Eugene. In 1956 we got second place in an international competition—from 7 or 8 nations and 40,000 competitors.”

Though Ron was born in Idaho, he says he attended all of his years of schooling in Eugene.

“I am very much a Duck,” he laughs.

Jean grew up in Ohio. She sang with her sisters and tap danced in her home state until she “was married and bearing children.”

Jean remembers fondly, “I sang at the opening of the WFMJ TV station back in 1951.”

After meeting at that 2009 Valentine’s event, Ron and Jean began singing together.  Ron says, “We got together after that to sing and been singing together now for three years.”

Ron and Jean’s act, though, is what makes them distinct. While they certainly sing for fun, their fun has a very specific purpose: therapy for the retired and those with Alzeimer’s.

The Love Music Revival

In Kingman, Arizona, Ron and Jean knew a friend, Dr. John Lingenfelter. Lingenfelter was a general practioner for years, “a country doctor,” as Ron describes him. Ron says that their friend was a philanthropist, helping to build the entire city of Kingman, including the city’s bank and church.

Ron believes that the music he and Jean sings — by being old standards that their audience knows and loves – help their audience members fight Alzheimer’s and reconnect with their past.

Lingenfelter was particularly active in his business of providing assisted living. He had 6 different assisted living, rehab, and Alzheimer’s units, which Ron says “are top quality places, highly ranked in the entire U.S. for their services.”

After a conversation with Ron and Jean, Lingenfelter had a vision of bringing music therapy into his organizations. Ron explains,

“We got him into musical therapy. He heard us at a show and thought it should be a part of his life and businesses. He invited me to create something that would become a therapeutic process.”

That is how Ron and Jean started “The Love Music Revival.”

Jean talks about the name:

“We wanted to bring back the old love songs. Originally the name started as Revolution, but that sounded like a big fight. So we changed the name to Revival. It takes everyone back and brings back good memories.”

Ron adds, “It’s not a church revival, but we want to bring back old songs that people are familiar with in our audience. Love songs have a good message and a good melody. This music is quiet and rhythmic and enjoyed by the audience.”

Since starting Love Music Revival, Ron and Jean — who perform under their stage names, “Ronald Dee” and “Jean Marie” — have put on over 500 shows, all at assisted living centers and retirement homes.

“We sing harmonies, duets, and solos, and we love participation from the audience,” says Ron.

Jean talks about a recent experience at one of their performances this last week in Eugene:

“This one guy at Fox Hollow last night, he was really actively participating with our show. He asked if he could sing, and he sang all night. Some songs he just cried like a baby because it brought back many memories. And he said it was so cathartic and good for him. We don’t just stand up there and sing alone, we try to get the audience involved.”

Love songs and the brain

Ron believes that the music he and Jean sing — by being old standards that their audience knows and loves – helps their audience members fight Alzheimer’s and reconnect with their past.

One of Love Music Revival’s most popular songs is “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini.”

“Harmonics are really good for the brain, and participation is doubly good. Yesterday we sang at Fox Hollow and they were all singing with us and having a ball. They even got up and danced. It’s really a great therapy and that’s what we are trying to sell.”

Music is indeed a great therapy for countering Alzheimer’s. The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America states that,

Music has power—especially for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. And it can spark compelling outcomes even in the very late stages of the disease. When used appropriately, music can shift mood, manage stress-induced agitation, stimulate positive interactions, facilitate cognitive function, and coordinate motor movements.”

That, of course, is the scientific explanation.

The everyday explanation, though, is just as compelling. Ron says,

“Right now music means everything. For us it’s a way of life that makes us happy. It has a purpose. We’re helping others. It’s the most rewarding thing we’ve ever done.”

Jean adds, “No matter how down you are, you start singing and forgot about all your troubles. It lifts your spirits.”

“We’re for sure coming back”

One of the assisted living centers the Love Music Revival performed at last week was Emerald Valley.

One of Love Music Revival’s most popular songs is “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini,” a novelty song written by Paul Vance and Lee Pockriss and first released in June 1960 by Brian Hyland.

“Everyone goes crazy,” Jean laughs.

The format of Love Music Revival is basic.

“It’s a sing along,” Ron says. “We have a set program and we sing together. We are not karaoke, but if someone can sing well, we invite someone up to sing with us.”

The Love Music Revival has traveled up and down the Colorado River, from Las Vegas, Nevada to Yuma, Arizona. Last week Ron and Jean brought their act to several assisted living centers and retirement homes in Eugene. They are hoping to expand their reach and are in the process of arranging shows in Hawaii. Ron explains that the “retirement home circuit” is not particularly lucrative, so they depend on connections and people eager to book their act. But they have begun to be noticed.

“Everyone at the homes want us back. This week was our first time with Love Music Revival in Eugene and we’re for sure coming back.”

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