In Philly, can making music help people living with Alzheimer’s?

2 minute read
Composer and Curtis grad Nicholas DiBerardino wants to use music to help Alzheimer's patients. (Photo courtesy of the artist.)
Composer and Curtis grad Nicholas DiBerardino wants to use music to help Alzheimer's patients. (Photo courtesy of the artist.)

Nicholas DiBerardino, a recent graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music, is a busy composer of orchestral, chamber, and vocal music. His work has been performed at orchestras and chamber groups across the country and abroad, and he regularly gives lectures about the importance of new music. But this year, as part of Curtis’s community-based projects, DiBerardino will bring his musical abilities to a different audience — patients and their caregivers at the Penn Memory Center.

DiBerardino will work alongside social entrepreneurship students at the center to organize regular performances and workshops both inside and outside the hospital, as well as assisting in a research study about the effects of songwriting and composition on mood and quality of life for patients and their caregivers.

Not alone with Alzheimer’s

“I discovered the Penn Memory Center last year when I was considering potential projects for my work as a Community Artist Fellow at Curtis,” DiBerardino explains. He took particular interest in the center’s multidisciplinary approach to improving the lives of people living with Alzheimer’s, which is a difficult diagnosis for patients and their whole families.

He was impressed by the center’s dance program, its reading partnership with the Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania, and the cultural programming at its Memory Café events. “I knew then that we had a shared vision for the role of art in improving people’s quality of life in even the most difficult of circumstances.”

Memory and music-making

DiBerardino notes that studies have shown that certain kinds of music therapy can be beneficial for people living with Alzheimer’s, and that we also know that creative expression can be a powerful emotional support during times of stress and difficulty. What is not yet known — and where his work is especially groundbreaking — is whether engaging with the process of creating music might offer particular benefits to people living with Alzheimer’s. He hopes that his work might encourage further study in the future. “No matter what we find, though, it is very meaningful to me personally to be able to interact with these patients and their caregivers and share the fun, creative, collaborative, nonjudgmental art of music-making with them,” he says.

Engaging in community projects like DiBerardino’s work with Penn Memory Center is an essential part of the Curtis Institute curriculum. Curtis students work on projects across the community — bringing music to schools, hospitals, prisons, and other settings in which music is not always accessible.

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