Tony Bennett Concerts Reveal Music’s Therapeutic Power

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by Lori DePorter |

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Along with my fellow columnists at Parkinson’s News Today, I have previously written about the benefits of music and dance for those with Parkinson’s disease or other neurological conditions. Research has shown that dancing to music may slow the progression of both motor and non-motor symptoms by affecting gait, mood, memory, and other cognitive skills.

Seeing is believing

On Oct. 3, CBS’ TV news show “60 Minutes” featured a story about legendary singer Tony Bennett. A “60 Minutes” crew followed Bennett, who at 95 has Alzheimer’s disease, during the rehearsals for a retirement performance with close friend Lady Gaga at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.

I eagerly watched newscaster Anderson Cooper interview Bennett, whose Alzheimer’s has placed him in the grips of dementia. My thoughts went to my dad, who is in a similar battle of his own.

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I saw many parallels between Bennett’s story and that of my dad, but the most powerful one was the effect that music has had on both of them. In the “60 Minutes” feature, after an accompanist began playing, Bennett sang an entire repertoire lasting over an hour — all from memory.

Despite having Alzheimer’s, Bennett appeared to be completely engaged while he was performing, and he seemed aware of the moment he was in. In a video clip of his performance later at Radio City Music Hall, a fragile-looking man transformed into a showman, to everyone’s amazement.

Bennett belted out the tunes with ease. Then, he introduced Lady Gaga by name, which he hadn’t done during rehearsals. Although he didn’t always remember he was in a show, he did manage to impress the crowds at both sold-out performances.

So, how’d he do it? The music, the stage, and the lights seemed to throw a switch in his brain that said, “You’re on. Let’s go.”

Our family has witnessed my dad’s “switch” while he was at his granddaughter’s wedding, except his preference was for polka music. And yes, seeing is believing.

Influential advocates increase awareness

When celebrities and their families choose to be advocates for a chronic illness, they make a huge difference. Actors like Michael J. Fox, and athletes like Davis Phinney, Muhammad Ali, and Brian Grant help to bring Parkinson’s disease to the forefront of public discussion. Their foundations blaze a trail for new research and provide valuable resources for patients and caregivers alike. They promote living one’s best life, and living it well.

As for Bennett, he may not realize how many lives his story has affected, just by showing the power of music to unlock the personality of someone with dementia. I hope his family understands just how much his journey has touched our family’s hearts.

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Note: Parkinson’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Parkinson’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Parkinson’s disease.

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