THE BLOG
08/01/2012 06:32 pm ET Updated Oct 01, 2012

Music Can Be Gentle on the Mind

My friend described the experience of seeing Glen Campbell in concert in one word: Amazing.

Glen Campbell -- the eternal Rhinestone Cowboy -- captivated the standing-room-only baby boomer audience. They cheered, danced and sang as Campbell's sonorous voice echoed through the concert hall. As he belted out such heartfelt standards as "By the Time I Get to Phoenix," "Wichita Lineman" and "Gentle on my Mind," many fans, like my friend, traveled back in time. The lyrics awakened long forgotten memories of people and places, of loves come and gone.

Sadly, the concert my friend attended will be one of Campbell's last. The singer has cancelled the final leg of his "Goodbye Tour," scheduled for Australia and New Zealand, because he isn't up to the long flight. Last year, Campbell was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. During the concert, my friend described how Campbell occasionally forgot the words to songs -- even as his fans sang along, even with the help of Teleprompters. He asked for patience as he struggled to find his place, explaining to the audience that he had "health issues."

Not only did he get the audience's patience, he inspired their reverence. The music that connected the crowd to so many emotions also connected them to Campbell in ways neither might have expected.

You see, Alzheimer's disease robs its victims of their capacity to do many things, but it does not take away their ability to appreciate and experience music.

A popular YouTube video, part of a documentary called Alive Inside, shows the story of Henry, a nursing home resident who is unresponsive and completely disengaged from the world. But when he's given an iPod, Henry comes alive. The music transforms him and he becomes communicative, alert and engaged. He is able to describe his spiritual connection to music in general and his love of Cab Calloway in particular. Music puts Henry in touch with a still-living, breathing part of himself.

Dr. Oliver Sacks, the renowned neurologist, described by the New York Times as "the poet laureate of medicine" has studied the therapeutic impact that music has on the brain. I'm not in that league, but I've seen the impact that music has on the brain as well. My dad has had dementia for over ten years and to the passive observer, my father (also named Henry) appears much like the Henry of You Tube fame. When my mother sings to him, however, my father smiles and comes alive. He instantly recalls the words to "I've Been Working on the Railroad" and "This Land is your Land" as he claps and dances in his wheelchair.

I don't recall my father being a big country music fan, but today I think he and Glen Campbell would be able to build a powerful connection. The famous singer may not be able to get off the stage unassisted, but his ability to emotionally engage with audiences through music has not been diminished. As time goes by, I think he'll find -- as my father and the other Henry have -- that his music connects him to amazing chords that can't be silenced by dementia.