My story is not unique. It is a story shared by sons and daughters, husbands and wives, past and present. After I lost my grandmother to Alzheimer's disease in 1979, I was saddened and shocked to learn that both my parents are now suffering from the same illness. Today, over 30 years have passed and the absence of progress is stunning. The threads of my story will connect more and more of us as more than 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 each day.
Statistics show that more than 250,000 New Yorkers are struggling with the disease and at least 250,000 are carrying the heavy burden of caregiving. But this is not simply a local story. An estimated 5.4 million Americans are currently diagnosed and Alzheimer’s is now the 6th leading cause of death. More importantly this disease is not limited to just the elderly as more cases of early onset are diagnosed every day. By 2050 as many as 16 million Americans will have Alzheimer’s robbing them of independence and memory.
My personal experience motivated me to get off the sidelines and try and make a difference. I enrolled in the Ambassador program with the Alzheimer’s Association. This is a ramped up advocate program that assigns one person to each congressional district in the country to act as a liaison between the Congress person and their constituents regarding all topics related to Alzheimer’s disease. I currently am the ambassador for the 14th district where Representative Carolyn Maloney serves.
Through my volunteer work I had the pleasure of viewing a first time screening of the documentary Alive Inside. Filmmaker Michael Rossato-Bennett follows the work of social worker Dan Cohen here in New York City. Dan has been spending the better part of a decade introducing iPods into facilities that care for those with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. He specifically targets music that speaks to that particular patient in an effort to recall memories and emotions from their past. The results are absolutely astounding! Patients that are in a catatonic state or are detached are awakened and move, sing and even converse about what they are experiencing through the music. Of course, as a musician I’m not surprised by the power of the music but seeing it first hand is still incredibly moving and inspiring.
I didn’t want to dismiss this inspiration. Through the documentary, Dan related the frustrations of trying to convince these institutions to spend the minuscule money on listening devices only to find they were much more inclined to spend thousands more on psychotropic drugs to sedate these patients. That really resonated with me. I knew that there was something I could do and more importantly something my community of fellow musicians and artists could do. This summer will mark the first annual United Broadway Artists iPod Drive for Alzheimer’s. So many of us have old iPods sitting in drawers collecting dust at home. These are tools that can awaken a mind that is crying out in their own darkness.
The drive will start this month, July 2012, and culminate on August 19th, 2012. I chose this date to honor my parents since it will be their 60th wedding anniversary. I have already given my mom the gift of music remembrance, and the results were remarkable—watch the video below.
You can send your iPod, charger and/or any Apple based music listening device to:
Broadway Alzheimer's iPod Drive
American Federation of Musicians Local 802
Public Relations Office
322 West 48th Street
New York, NY 10036
Broadway Alzheimer's iPod Drive
Alzheimer's Association NYC Chapter
360 Lexington Avenue, 4th Floor
New York, NY 10017
We will also be partnering with the Broadway Green Alliance this year and you can drop off your donation at the Electronic Waste Collection Drive from 11 am to 1 pm on Wednesday, July 18th in Duffy Square at Broadway and 46th Street. You can learn more on Facebook.
Monetary donations should be made out and mailed to:
Music & Memory Donations
142 Emory Road
Mineola, New York 11501
- Dave Roth, Local 802 percussionist (Evita)