- Associated Press - Sunday, March 30, 2014

MUNCIE, Ind. (AP) - It was early Sunday afternoon when Mike Gerhard and Abby Urbick encountered Gene Hart, an 82-year-old man wearing a blue Colts sweatshirt and a black Cardinals baseball cap, in a hall of the Alzheimer’s wing in The Woodlands nursing home.

Would he like to hear some gospel music?

“Absotively posilutely!” Hart happily replied with an intentional tongue-twister, following Gerhard, a Ball State University telecommunications professor, and Urbick, a telecommunications major, into a nearby break room. While hooking up two pairs of lightweight headphones to a splitter and a tiny iPod Shuffle, they tried to engage Hart, whose Alzheimer’s was diagnosed in 2008 and has been judged as advanced, in conversation.

What work had he done in life? Despite his fluidity of speech, his rambling response offered no answer.

Did he have children? He thought so, but didn’t know how many.

Was he married?

“Oh, I think so,” he said, pondering the question, then added, “I really don’t know if I’m married or not.”

And then, the song “Amazing Grace” began flowing through the headphones, both his and the connected pair that Urbick wore. Suddenly, with his face dissolving in joyful tears, he began singing the song, pretty much word for word, looking skyward and raising his hands with emotion. Laying a comforting hand on his shoulder, the BSU student began singing along with him as other hymns followed, including “Just a Closer Walk With Thee.” Sometimes Hart cried “Hallelujah!” and sometimes he drummed his fists against his chest, but always he sang.

In the months since Gerhard launched Music & Memory-Muncie, he has seen time and time again how music, coupled with the love, care and respect shown these elderly patients by his group of telecommunications students, most of whom are freshmen, brings them out of the fog in which they exist.

Granted, the effect is temporary.

“But them coming back to reality for a little bit, it’s priceless to us,” Gerhard told The Star Press (http://bit.ly/1e1pH8f ).

Indeed, this day, after maybe 40 minutes of music, Hart seemed to be living in the moment, enough so that when someone suggested ending the session with a prayer, he was up to the task, closing his eyes and delivering one that, in its own way, seemed hauntingly appropriate to what had just happened.

“Heavenly father,” he prayed, momentarily halting to find the words, “we release all hindrances and sleep in the fringe of God.”

What’s more, this man who less than an hour before didn’t remember whether he was married, now remembered he was, and even recalled his wife’s name: Vivian Marie.

The program, Music & Memory, is a national one based on the notion that music can change the lives of nursing home residents suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and more. A man with an almost religious fervor for the rights and welfare of the elderly, Gerhard learned about the program last summer, played a video about it to a freshman class he was teaching during the second week of school, and was amazed at the response.

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