Using music to help unlock Alzheimer's patients' memories

NEW YORK -- Each week, the DJ spins oldies but goodies at the Todt Hill Senior Center on Staten Island.

Also taking a spin is 74-year-old Carol Daly, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's 12 years ago. CBS News chief medical correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook has been following Carol and her husband Mike since 2008, charting her decline and witnessing their love story.

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LaPook and the Dalys in 2008

CBS News

When they met again this spring, Carol was barely talking.

"And I really see a tremendous difference in Carol. What do you see?" LaPook asked Mike.

"Sadness," he said. "This is what we live so long for?"

Caregivers like Mike are desperate for anything that can improve quality of life.

So CBS News introduced the Dalys to the Music and Memory program, created by social worker Dan Cohen.

"Our senses -- sight, smell -- really light up a very small part of the brain. But music lights up many parts of the brain. So even though the brain may deteriorate in certain areas, other areas of the brain is still very much there," Cohen said.

And that gave Cohen an idea. In 2008, he started handing out iPods to nursing home residents so they could have personalized music. Cobble Hill Health Center in Brooklyn was one of the first to give it a try.

A decade later, it's in some 4,500 sites.

In the Music and Memory program, family and friends create the playlist.

As Carol listened to a song through her headphones, LaPook noticed that she recited some of the lyrics on the beat.

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Carol listening to music with Mike, left, and Dan Cohen, right

CBS News

"Since the music we love is really tied to our emotional system, and our emotional system is still very much intact, that's what we're connecting and that's what still works," Cohen said.

Emotional for Mike Daly as well.

"You know it's more than I can deal with, I can handle," Mike said.

"It's poignant, is it a good poignant?" LaPook asked.

"It's knowing that she hasn't lost it all," he said.