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June 20, 2018

Ethnogeriatric specialist and pioneering Alzheimer’s researcher Gerdner returns with a book to help children cope with their loved one’s Alzheimer’s.

Why and how did you write Musical Memories?

While there is growing recognition that individuals with Alzheimer’s disease must be treated within the context of the family, too often the needs of grandchildren are overlooked. Musical Memories takes a unique approach to helping children understand Alzheimer’s.

The perception and processing of favorite music from an earlier time in life remains intact during the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s. This knowledge is translated into an age-appropriate story that is engaging and empowering to the child. The story incorporates parallel scenes between Gabrielle and Grandma to facilitate a child’s understanding of Grandma’s experiences and feelings. Music serves as a catalyst for unveiling Grandma’s personhood, promoting communication, eliciting positive memories, reducing anxiety, and alleviating agitation. Musical Memories takes place primarily within a home setting that strives to promote Grandma’s independence while addressing safety issues and behavioral challenges associated with Alzheimer’s.

Who is your ideal reader?

Musical Memories is intended for children ages 8–12 who are encountering Alzheimer’s disease. The book is also intended to serve as a valuable resource for educators and health-care professionals who serve Alzheimer’s patients and their families.

How do you imagine readers at this moment will connect to Musical Memories?

An expanding body of research has found that individualized musical intervention is effective in stimulating social interaction, promoting a positive affect, and increasing the quality of life for Alzheimer’s patients. Musical Memories is an innovative model for translating basic principles of an evidence-based guideline into a children’s story that is engaging and empowering as an educational tool for families.

Tell us about your professional background.

In the early 1990s, I pioneered the use of individualized music. I have an MA and PhD degree in nursing in aging and have continued my research and scholarly efforts in this area ever since. I am also very interested in the need for culturally responsive care for persons of various ethnic backgrounds. I conducted the first ethnographic study on home care of Hmong Americans with chronic confusion and cognitive impairment. This led to a bilingual picture book, Grandfather’s Story Cloth (2008), a culturally appropriate learning tool about Alzheimer’s disease. Other works include Hmong Story Cloths: Preserving Historical and Cultural Treasures (2015, Schiffer) and Demystifying Hmong Shamanism: Practice and Use by Hmong Americans across the Lifespan (2015, Bäuu).

What is the one thing you most want to tell readers about you or your book?

As an ethnogeriatric specialist at the Stanford Geriatric Education Center, I have also worked in community outreach to promote culturally responsive care for elder Hmong Americans. More recently, I became a coeditor with Gwen Yeo and Dolores Gallagher-Thompson on the third edition of Ethnicity and the Dementias for publication in September 2018 by Routledge.