Catherine Shmerling appreciates the effect that certain musical events have had on her father, Dr. Sanford A. Shmerling, 85. The elder Shmerling used to be the medical director of the William Breman Jewish Home in Atlanta; now, he lives there. He has Alzheimer's, and most of his speech is not comprehensible, his daughter said.
On a recent weekend, a swing band performed at the nursing home. At first the former medical director sat in his wheelchair staring into space, but soon his daughter noticed him clapping his feet. She started swinging his arm with the music, and after a few minutes he gave her "a cute little smile."
"It's gratifying," Catherine Shmerling said. "There is something about -- I don't know, the music or the auditory or something -- that does seem to get past whatever it is that's blocking their normal communication, and somehow it gets in there."
Science may not have all the answers, but Shmerling savors these small signs that her father is listening.
Follow Elizabeth Landau on Twitter and Google+.