Beloved music can renew lives lost to dementia

BERKELEY — More than 300 years ago, British playwright William Congreve said, “Music has charms to soothe a savage breast” (from “The Mourning Bride,” 1697). While one might speculate that music has always maintained the property to alter emotions, many residents with dementia receive the life-enhancing benefit of music everyday at The Argyle, a non-profit assisted living facility at 4115 W 38th Ave.

Celeste Richardson, director of The Argyle’s Music & Memory program, said, “Music brings folks alive; it sparks happiness. Residents may have dementia or short-term memory issues—they may not even know why they’re living here, but the music taps into their older memories, like when they’d go to dances at Elitch’s Trocadero Ballroom when they were teenagers. A song they might not have heard for 50 years helps trigger memories of who they danced with and how they got there.”

Richardson sees the benefits of the program in folks with paranoia or anxiety and how music changes their mood. “We have a resident who will be crying and very worried about her daughter, but she comes alive when the music starts; she’ll smile and dance or sing. She has a really fun dance move.

“One resident started doing the exact dance steps of swing and the Lindy Hop, but she otherwise didn’t know where she was. A man with dementia tapped his fingers on the table the whole time his music played. One resident seldom left his room, but with his music on, he’d walk the halls.”

A compelling example of the immediate effect of music is portrayed in the 2012 video ( of a man named Henry, who “had suffered from dementia for a decade, was very withdrawn, and spent most of his time alone in his wheelchair, unable to communicate…Until he was given an iPod loaded with music from his era. Suddenly, the man who barely spoke was able to sing his favorite Cab Calloway songs.”

In that video, neurologist Dr. Oliver Sacks (author of “Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain” and “Awakenings”) says that when Henry listens to his music, he is “in some sense restored to himself. He has remembered who he is, and he has reacquired his identity for a while through the power of music.”

Supported by the whole staff of The Argyle, Music & Memory specialists Richardson and Angela Moore facilitate the program. “We have about 55-60 people on the program,” Moore said. “Most residents come to The Argyle after living on their own or with a spouse or children. They come from all over the country, not just Denver.” About 200 residents live at The Argyle.

The Argyle began its Music & Memory program in June 2015. With a master’s degree in social work, Richardson had been volunteering at The Argyle when she became part of the Music & Memory training staff. Soon after, management realized the true scope of administering the program and asked Richardson to implement it.

Richardson said her main focus is to interview residents to determine who would enjoy being in the program. “It takes one to one-and-a-half hours to discover what music people like or used to like in high school or in their early 20s,” she said.

Dan Cohen, who utilized his background in high-tech training, vocational rehabilitation and social work, created the Music & Memory program in Greater New York in 2006. According to his bio on, Cohen said if someday he were to end up in a nursing home, he would want to be able to listen to his favorite 1960s music. He’d heard a news report about how iPods had grown in popularity and thought why not bring them into nursing homes to provide personalized music for residents?

As of October, there are more than 3,000 certified Music & Memory organizations in the U.S., Canada, Australia and Europe. The Argyle is one of a growing number of communities in Colorado committed to enhancing the quality of life for their residents by becoming Music & Memory certified facilities.

Residents use an iPod Shuffle, which stores hundreds of songs and can be set to play songs in the order of programming or in a random mode. Some residents know how to operate the iPod and are able to recharge it; others need help turning it on and off.

iPods are the property of The Argyle, as are the songs programmed onto them. People donate CDs or music is purchased from the iTunes store. Residents can keep their headphones if they need to move to a different facility, but they are not allowed to take their Shuffles with them.

The goal of the Certified program is to get music to residents at least three times a week.

The amount of time residents listen to music in a given day varies. Moore says that most people leave it on for two or three hours. “We have a woman with severe anxiety and once she puts on her headphones, she’ll leave the music on for six hours.

“The program also creates friendships between residents, and they often share music,” Moore said. “Songs can trigger other music they’d like to have added.”

“We are an assisted living facility,” said Richardson. “Some of our folks might have physical limitations, but mentally they’re completely aware and ‘with it.’ They choose when they want to listen. They might listen just before bedtime because it relaxes them. Some might listen right after lunch, or first thing in the morning.

“Sometimes, though, the music can make some folks agitated and confused, and I did not see that coming [as an outcome of the program]. Those people are not in the program.”

The palliative affect can be dramatic. Richardson related that one person listened before a doctor appointment, to alleviate anxiety. Another resident took his music with him prior to back surgery. “Music for folks with chronic pain and anxiety is as good as it is for folks with dementia,” she said. “It really distracts them from the pain or worries they may be having. It gets their mind focused on something that makes them happy.

“We had a man here who had been at Woodstock. It was fun putting his playlist together. But he had a fall and went to a facility with a higher level of care. When he left, he did not want to give up his iPod.” Richardson provided him with a listing of all his music that he was able to implement at his new care-giving facility.

The Music & Memory website——provides information to help families set up in-home programs. “It’s a way to unite families,” said Richardson.

A resident listening to his music in the hallway, who otherwise wasn’t very talkative, said his favorite music is rock and roll. “Elvis Presley was the king,” he said. “People tell me I have a voice just like Elvis Presley’s when I sing. My favorite group is The Beach Boys and then Buddy Holly. My favorite country and western singer is Johnny Cash.” He wanted to add two “Frankies” to his playlist—Frankie Avalon and Frankie Valli—and Richardson told him she would take care of that.

To make a financial contribution to The Argyle Foundation, or to donate CDs or new iPod Shuffles, call 303-455-9513 or visit

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Lost & Found Productions presents: 4 X’Mas

HIGHLAND — Lost & Found Productions is proud to present the final show in their inaugural season, ‘4 X’Mas’ by George Cameron Grant. Performances will be Friday and Saturday evenings at 7:30 PM from December 9 through 17, with a Sunday Matinee on December 18 at 2:30 PM and weeknight evening performances on December 21 and 22 at 7:30 PM. All performances will be at The Bug Theatre at 3654 Navajo Street in Denver. Tickets are $ 15 in advance and $ 20 at the door with group discounts available for groups of 6 or more.  Tickets and additional information is available online at

Join Lost & Found Productions for a holiday treat you’ll never forget! Enjoy four different holiday stories unlike anything you’ve seen before. From a couple who rekindles their love at an office party to Kris Kringle’s annual visit to a Jewish nursing home and even a story told from the point of view of the holiday decorations themselves – this holiday offering has it all. 

‘4 X’Mas’ features four stories: ‘The Office Party’ tells the story of a couple who meet at a holiday office party, rekindling a love affair that leads to an unresolved third-person triangle. ‘Santa’s Clara’ is about a fired department store Santa who meets a teenage runaway and helps her in more ways than she expected. Then, enjoy ‘The First Noel’ – the story of a hungry, homeless woman and her annual trip to the site of her childhood home. It will be followed by ‘Balls,’ a hilarious look at the holidays as told from the point of view of the holiday ornaments. The final piece in the line-up is ‘Santa Comes to the King David’ and features the story of a man who plays Kris Kringle every year for a Jewish nursing home. 

Lost & Found is proud to support four female directors for this piece: Deb Flomberg, Allison Learned, Katie Mangett & Elizabeth Neuhauser. Join us at the Bug Theatre for an evening of comedy, drama and unforgettable holiday magic!

‘4 X’Mas’ features the talents of  Xandra Prestia-Turner, Todd Black, Mike Moran, Linda Button, Suzanna Wellens, Linda Swanson-Brown, Greg West, Allison Learned and Jackson Learned.

Lost & Found Productions Presents: 4 X’Mas
By George Cameron Grant
December 9 through 22, 2016
$ 15 in advance/$ 20 at the door
$ 13 for groups of 6 or more in advance only  

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Story of Louise Brooks and Ken Tynan Brought to Life Beautifully in “Lost Creatures”

DOWNTOWN: Denver’s And Toto Too Theatre Company continues its tradition of bringing new works by women playwrights to life with the world premiere of Lost Creatures by Melissa Lucero McCarl. This story of a meeting between a normally caustic theater critic and the aging silent film star Louise Brooks is cleverly structured, wonderfully acted, and a treat to watch.

Playwright McCarl built the play based on the meeting that happened between these two characters from history and their actual meeting, held in a small apartment decades after Brooks’ surprisingly early departure from a successful film career. McCarl tells the story using realistic dialogue between the two characters, but throughout their time together, they are joined by Lulu, the character that Brooks played in the film Pandora’s Box. More than just observing, she is an integral part of the story, unseen to the other characters, but responding, reacting, and occasionally interacting. Lulu is part alter ego, part Greek chorus, and part context. This device takes the play from what would have been an interesting relationship story to a higher level, merging the silent film world that gave us Louise Brooks into the fabric of the play. Lulu is silent film – her movement, expressions, style, everything. It brings the whole production together beautifully.

Director Patrick Elkins-Zeglarski seems to have taken the roots of this concept that must have been in the script, watered it, fed it, nurtured it, and let it grow and fully blossom. The contrast of the two “real” people, Ken and Louise, with Lulu is stark, and yet they are integrated together. All is balanced well, keeping the focus on the story, but using the structure to move the story forward, add texture, and really engage the audience.

Billie McBride, who played Louise Brooks, is one of the best actors in Denver, and I have always enjoyed the characters she creates onstage. She captures the aging Brooks very well, remembering her experiences from decades earlier, surprisingly but appropriately frank in her discussions of sexuality. One of the risks of having an actor so good onstage is that she can overshadow others, which I did see in one recent show. However, here, Marc Collins more than holds his own as Ken Tynan. It is hard to describe, but Collins captures the erudite arrogance of the British critic perfectly, clearly enthralled by his meeting with the object of his intense infatuation (both artistic and sexual). His performance is authentically artificial – the man Tynan is real, real in his emotions, real in his affectations, real in his flamboyance, real in his pain. And enhancing everything throughout is Annabel Reader as Lulu, beautiful, sexy, graceful, and silent, yet communicating volumes without a word, just as silent film stars did almost a hundred years ago. I can’t imagine a better cast than this for this show.

Lost Creatures is performed in The Commons on Champa, a newly adapted space in a building adjacent to the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. It is not the best space for live theater, with the seating only slightly raked, making seeing everything clearly a challenge for those not in the front row.  But set designer Darren Smith uses the space well, creating three small areas separate from the inside of Brooks’ apartment, including the area outside her door, which could have been excluded, but is important to the story. The space presents challenges for lighting, and while designer Emily Maddox does well within the constraints of what she had to work with, there is just not enough height in the room to light the space well. Maddox wisely focused on providing enough illumination, without trying to do more than was possible, thereby limiting the potential for distraction. Susan Lyles’ costume design works well, especially Lulu’s gorgeous, sexy 1920s era flapper dress and Tynan’s appropriately garish outfits.

It is hard to sum up my reaction to the many plays I see in unique and specific ways, especially when I see a show as exceptional as Lost Creatures. Yes, it was engaging, entertaining, intriguing, beautiful, and thoughtful, all words that I use too often. Maybe compelling is the best word to use here. I attended with a friend, a young woman who is a huge fan of silent film, and both my companion and I were riveted, completely drawn into the world of this play. After seeing the show, I looked up the lengthy New Yorker article Tynan wrote about the 1978 meetings he had with Brooks. The play captures both the actual the words and overall feel of Tynan’s article very well. I also really want to see the film Pandora’s Box again as well, to get more context. But honestly, the best indicator is that I, who never have enough time to see all the shows that I want to see, would be delighted to see this production of Lost Creatures again, perhaps even next weekend.  It is that good.

If You Go…

Lost Creatures runs through November 19 at The Commons on Champa, at 1245 Champa St behind the DCPA in Downtown Denver, with performances Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 pm.  Tickets are $ 22-$ 25, with a $ 15 “cheap date” performance on Thursday, November 10. For more information and tickets, call 720-583-3975 or visit


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