An estimated 6.5 million Americans age 65 and older are living with the type of dementia known as Alzheimer’s, about 1 in 9 people (10.7%) in that age group. (In New York state alone, 400,000 people have Alzheimer’s, while in Connecticut that number is 80,000.)
While the percentage of people with Alzheimer’s increases with age, people younger than 65 can also develop it. About 110 of every 100,000 people, some 200,000 Americans, have early-onset Alzheimer’s in the United States.
Despite the recent good news about the drug Lecanemab to treat mild to moderate cognitive impairment, we are a long way from prevention or a cure. Without these, this disease will contribute cumulative costs of almost $20 trillion to Medicare and Medicaid spending by 2050.
As president of Wartburg, which offers integrated, comprehensive senior residential and health-care services on its 34-acre campus in Mount Vernon – as well as president of the Institute for Music and Neurologic Function, which joined Wartburg in 2018 to provide residents with innovative music therapy programs – I’ve devoted my career to the care and well-being of older adults. So when I heard about a research trial using music and synchronized light therapy to stimulate cognition in those affected with dementia, I leapt at the opportunity, with the support of Concetta Tomaino, the institute’s executive director.
Recent discoveries by neuroscientists have found that brain rhythms supporting memory as well as cognition are disrupted in people with Alzheimer’s. According to Oscillo Biosciences, an early-stage company in the Greater Hartford area using music and synchronized light therapy to restore brain function, disruptions in the Gamma-frequency range are even being observed before the onset of cognitive impairment and the formation of the amyloid plaque deposits and tau tangles associated with Alzheimer’s. Growing evidence indicates that stimulating brain waves at the right frequencies can improve memory and cognition and even decrease the amyloid plaques and tau tangles.
Neuroscience researchers know that we can stimulate brain rhythms not only auditorily (using sound) but visually (using light). Oscillo Biosciences’ cloud-based technology marries light to music to activate different areas of the brain at multiple frequencies, especially those involved in memory and cognition, producing a synergistic effect capable of reaching parts of the brain that cannot be reached by music or light alone.
The trial in which we are participating involves Oscillo Biosciences’ most recent prototype. Unlike pharmaceuticals, the use of music has no cost and no side effects. I have always been interested in its use, but with this study adding rhythmic light, it is beyond fascinating, and I am thrilled to be able to participate.
Even without the trial, people working in senior care and service environments know the power of music, as it is offered generally as part of a therapeutic environment in nursing homes, assisted living facilities and adult-daycare centers. Music appeals to diverse groups of people regardless of language, economics, religion or education. Its emotional appeal is often associated with life events, including religious gatherings, concerts, graduations and weddings.
As Xiyu Zhang, an Institute for Music and Neurologic Function therapist and Oscillo Biosciences research study assistant, observed, “Alzheimer’s patients lose their connections with their family and friends, their surroundings and eventually, themselves. Yet their musical connections can remain intact.
“As a music therapist, I work with patients struggling with Alzheimer’s, so it is nice to be able to assist in the research to prevent or delay the disease.”
Oscillo founder and Chief Science Officer (CSO) Edward Large, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Connecticut, said that despite $42.5 billion spent on research since 1995, we still do not have a cure for Alzheimer’s: “This disease is growing at an alarming rate, and time is of the essence. We scientists need to look at new ways to treat the problem. Digital therapeutics such as ours are a growing category recognized by the FDA (Food & Drug Administration). Our treatment is showing very encouraging results, and we’re excited that it is noninvasive, drug-free, well-tolerated and even enjoyable for patients to use.”
For more, visit imnf.org.