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This Woman is Music to a Senior’s Ear

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By Tom Konecny, MeetAmerica

If you say laughter is the best medicine, then you haven’t met Carol Rosenstein. Make no mistake, she laughs and smiles plenty. In fact, her infectious, loveable glee makes her one of the most joyous persons you’ll ever meet. But she’s discovered an even greater prescription beyond laughter with which science has no comparison.

Music. It has the power to heal minds, and in Rosenstein’s summation, literally resurrect. She witnessed it firsthand after her husband, Irwin, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease 12 years ago and, then later, dementia. Irwin has played the piano privately for many years. It was during his regular home/private playing, in the wake of reduced medication, that she observed the dramatic effect the music playing was having on him.

She hasn’t let up since.

Medicine for the mind

Rosenstein got Irwin playing the piano in a UCLA care program that coupled students and seniors, but the real dynamic was music. Combining both intergenerational support and music therapy, Rosenstein did something that no one in America has done: start a band. The idea formally became Music Mends Minds in 2015 – a non-profit which supports those afflicted by neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s, dementia, Parkinson’s, as well as traumatic brain injury, stroke and PTSD through musical groups. In short, it’s music as medicine for the mind.

“I am so humbled to be the messenger of this amazing project,” she said. “It’s really my lifeline.”

Its flagship band, The 5th Dementia, started out with 30 members and now practices twice a week just west of Beverly Hills. Twice a year it fills to capacity shows at a nearby Presbyterian church.

Rosenstein’s concept started to grow, and it now has 20 bands in California, Washington, Arizona, Canada and the Philippines – with more on the way. Close to 900 musicians and singers are already in MMM bands, and that figure is even higher when considering caregivers who get them to practices and shows.

“We really are growing exponentially, because we’re pied pipers and people are following the music,” Rosenstein said.

Spurring growth is a collaboration with Rotary International Clubs, which is helping them to go worldwide by inviting Rotarians to make an MMM band a community outreach project. Despite its progression, funding remains an issue, so MMM operates out of the Rosenstein’s home. Staffing includes five student-employees who act as independent contractors, and they’re also assisted by a board of directors and advisory board.

Her ultimate vision is to create bands around the globe. She also foresees a daily TV show where the homebound can watch and play music alongside. This June she’ll fly to a Rotary conference in Toronto where she’ll market MMM to 40,000 attendees.

Though there are several singing and dance groups that support those with neurodegenerative diseases, MMM is the only of its kind. And sitting in the heart of Hollywood, Rosenstein also hopes to secure a celebrity or two who could serve as the face of MMM and help open new doors.

Mind-body connection

Rosenstein, 73, knows about healing. She came to America in 1962 from South Africa with her parents in order to study. She’d eventually receive a master’s in transformational psychology where she studied mind-body medicine, and would ultimately fashion a career as a chiropractic.

“Knowing holistically that the mind and the body are inextricably one,” she said, “you have to treat those in order to gain a successful resolution.”

Using her background is crucial while waiting for science to find a cure for degenerative diseases. Employing her charming personality eases the wait.

“We’re on the road with a product that’s so easy to sell,” she said. “We’re doing it and we’re having fun. Our days are meaningful and productive. We can truthfully say that music is medicine for all of us.”

More than music

Rosenstein asserts that the music itself is important, but her cause is just as much about modern research to know why music is medicine for the mind. Playing music is like pushing a pause button on unpleasant conditions – it halts the disease’s development.

“We’re trying to catch them on the front end, early to mid-onset,” Rosenstein said. “The music can possibly slow down the progression of the disease. In an infancy of an early continuum of the patients with these conditions, the playing of these instruments can reduce the conditions.”

Equally exciting is learning how playing a musical instrument as a child and continuing through life – despite having a genetic predisposition for these diseases – could actually prevent a person from acquiring the disease in the first place.

“It’s like a piggy bank, a reserve, to prevent somebody from actually ever getting a diagnosis,” she said. “We are sitting with bated breath to see what the music can do for this population.”

Rosenstein is also on the threshold of starting a new research band in New York City by working with Dr. Mary Mittelman, a world-renowned researcher at the NYU School of Medicine. Together they’ve found patients in NYC to examine what music is doing for them. Mittelman has also developed her own singing group, “The Unforgettables.”

Why music matters

Some of the band members may not even know their names, their birthdate, or where they live. But they show up, they contribute and offer proof that their lives matter – thanks to Rosenstein.

“They can be healthy, whole and independent again with music in the moment because of this amazing issue of memory storage,” Rosenstein said. “When they are able to feel so accomplished again after they’ve been stripped of everything because of the disease, they regain their lost identity, they regain their lost confidence, they regain their integrity because of the music.”

Rosenstein’s creation isn’t only in the business of creating music for everyone’s benefit, they’re sharing research and educating them about the magic of music and the brain.

“I see this as a way to touch human beings,” she said. “We know this is a universal language. They just need to get on their frequency and ride along happily into the sunset.”

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