Area Rotary district supports music program for people with dementia

The popular Music Mends Minds will increase its reach

Music Mends Minds, which brings music to people with dementia and other neurological disorders, will likely launch in many nearby communities thanks to support from the local Rotary district — and an islander who has made it her mission to bring the program to as many people as possible.

Amy Huggins started Music Mends Minds on Vashon in 2015 to help her music-loving husband, Alan, who had been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. Vashon Rotary has supported the program from the beginning on the island, where multiple musicians now participate and up to 50 people attend each week to sing along to everything from Beatles’ songs to “You Are my Sunshine.”

Huggins, however, has had bigger aspirations for the program. Last month, at a Rotary district conference, with club members from Eastern and Western Washington, she and three other Rotarians staffed an informational booth about Music Mends Minds. Huggins also gave a talk about the program’s benefits, and 150 people attended, she said. Afterward, at a business meeting, members of Rotary District 5030, which Vashon Rotary is part of along with 52 other clubs, voted unanimously to make Music Mends Minds a district project. This action, Huggins said, will ensure increased funding for and awareness about the program throughout the district.

“I want all 53 clubs to start Music Mends Minds in their communities because we have enough Alzheimer’s disease and dementia for the whole world,” Huggins said.

In fact, in the weeks since the conference, some Rotary clubs have already reached out to Huggins for assistance, and she intends to focus on creating new groups in the coming months.

“I will be visiting all 52 clubs in the next year or two to encourage them to launch Music Mends Minds in their community as a service project,” she said. “The need is growing. It is not going away,” she said about dementia. “Music Mends Minds is really needed. It is not just a nice idea. It is effective.”

Music Mends Minds is a nonprofit organization California resident Carol Rosenstein developed in 2014 after her husband Irwin was diagnosed first with Parkinson’s disease and then with dementia. After seeing that music helped him in ways that his medication did not, she created a band for him and others with neurodegenerative disorders; they called it The 5th Dementia.

After that, Rosenstein told CNN in an interview, they never looked back. She established Music Mends Minds, which now has nearly 20 participating musical groups in California, Washington, New York, Canada and the Philippines.

“We’re in the business of creating bands in different cities where we can find people with neurodegenerative diseases who love to play music and are ready to jump in and have a good time,” Rosenstein said in the CNN interview.

Music Mends Minds’ website includes information about the benefits of music, including that in patients with Parkinson’s disease, music can help the brain produce dopamine; that patients with Alzheimer’s may forget the content of some songs but do not appear to forget how to play instruments, and that music aids in creating, storing, retrieving and retaining memories.

On the island, singer and guitarist Rich Osborne has been leading the Music Mends Minds group at Vashon Community Care for two years. He is often joined by other talented musicians playing the violin, ukulele or banjo, among other instruments. He explained the reason that leading the group continues to be a part of his life.

“I observed the miracle that happens,” he said, noting that as people gather, they often shuffle in and appear to be “barely there.”

But when the music starts, change occurs.

“The clouds part and the sun shines down, and they are back and fully there,” he said.

He added that about one month after he started playing for the group, he was in US Bank when a woman approached him, addressing him as “Guitar Guy.”

“She told me, ‘When my husband comes and sings, that is the only time I hear his voice each week,’” he said. “She got me. How I respond is that I keep showing up each week.”

As for the recent development with Rotary supporting the project at the district level, Osborne said he was pleased to hear it.

“The more, the better. I think it is an amazing program,” he said, crediting Huggins for her work. “To me she is the hero.”

Music Mends Minds meets at 1:30 p.m. Tuesdays at Vashon Community Care.

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