Complementary Medicine through Music
The Greens at Cannondale
by THE STORYSTUDIO
photos by GRETCHEN YENGST
The challenges and fears that come with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia can sometimes be overwhelming. Indeed, these conditions often leave patients’ families and caregivers in crisis, as the behaviors associated with cognitive decline leave the afflicted senior vulnerable to wandering, isolation, anger, falls and accidents due to impaired executive function. Researchers and top caregivers, such as the team at the Cannondale Campus in Wilton, have learned that complementary approaches to care can offer tremendous benefits to afflicted seniors and promise to their loved ones.
Complementary care requires an entire team of professionals, including experts in psychology, the arts, aromatherapy, dance, healing touch and music. Board-certified music therapist Rafel Sgammato, who is also a neurologic music therapist and certified dementia practitioner, has become a regular among the Evergreen memory care team at the Greens at Cannondale.
Rafel brings the supplies she needs, including her guitar, music stand, sheet music, an instrument-filled satchel and a red spiral assessment notebook.
But more importantly, she arrives with a bright, intuitive outlook. Her warm, mellifluous voice rings out as she pulls her chair close to the small group of five seniors. She addresses each of them by name, moving seamlessly from one to the other. With great earnestness, she connects by maintaining strong eye contact, even when a resident appears to drift away. Her persistence pays off as she gets everyone to take part in a catchy call-and-response tune that incorporates each participant’s name. Her approaches have proven to be utterly transformative to many a Greens resident suffering from dementia.
Take for instance, Mrs. L., who had been slowly withdrawing from almost all social engagement opportunities. She stopped enjoying strolls with her son. Her face no longer lit up when her daughter’s dog ran to her side. Nothing was getting through. Little of her old self was evident. Amazingly, however, things changed for Mrs. L. when she started attending music therapy sessions.
Rafel takes out her songbook and asks each person to choose either a fast or a slow song. Selections run the gamut from “Que Sera Sera” and “Love Me Tender” to “That’s Amore” and “Blue Suede Shoes.” Everyone sings. Even Mrs. L.
Rafel then changes things up by passing out small instruments. Some folks are eager to get one, others not so much. Easing a tambourine or maraca into resting hands, she tenderly covers their fingers with her own, making sure that their palms feel the instrument’s weight.
Musical strategies – both instrumental and vocal – have the ability to facilitate changes that are nonmusical in nature. Professionals like Rafel design programs that respond to many functional abilities and needs. In the right hands, music therapy can help:
• Modify mood and emotional state
• Enhance self-awareness
• Improve verbal and nonverbal expression
• Develop coping and relaxation skills
• Improve problem-solving skills
• Develop independence and decision-making skills
• Improve concentration and attention span
Hans Christian Andersen said, “When words fail, music speaks.” No truer words have been spoken.
To learn more about complementary care on the Cannondale Campus or specifically about the power of music to soothe the soul and engage the mind, please contact senior executive Ron Bucci at