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Christmas music therapy helps Seattle seniors with memory loss

The soundtrack of the holidays is helping a group of seniors in Seattle reconnect with the past.

SEATTLE — The soundtrack of Christmas is helping a group of seniors in Seattle reconnect with the past. Some of them are losing their memory, but a program in their community uses music to invigorate their minds.

On a recent Sunday afternoon, Joe Kaufman rounded up a group of residents at Aegis Living Queen Anne Rodgers Park, an assisted living and memory care community.

“Ruby, what do you think should we start with? Brown Eyed Girl or 5 foot 2?” he asked one of the people gathered in a semi-circle around him.

Kaufman strummed a guitar and the group belted out lyrics.

“San Francisco, your golden sun will shine for me,” they sang.

“A lot of memories,” said Ed Lang, who lives at Aegis and gestured toward his head, “Takes me a while to get them from here to back there, but they get there.”

The singalongs aren’t just for nostalgia. It’s music therapy, a medical approach to treating memory loss, which targets a part of the brain that processes sound.

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“If you can trigger this response, it lifts people out of this kind of haze that is Alzheimer’s and even if it's only for a temporary moment, it’s something that the families are going to cherish,” said Kaufman, who is a board-certified music therapist.

As part of December’s regimen, Kaufman wanted to get his group out of their comfort zone and give them and their families a gift they can replay over and over.

So he brought a dozen or so residents to a professional recording studio at Seattle Pacific University to record a song Kaufman wrote called “Christmas Time is Here.”

For residents like Lang, the experience rouses the past.

“Music has been my life. I was born during the Depression and nobody had money to do anything, and when the families got together, my father used to say, 'sing,' and I did,” he said.

The residents debuted the song for their families on Christmas Day.

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