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Music helps Durham couple cope with Alzheimer's

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DURHAM, N.C. -

A Durham man is using music to help awaken what Alzheimer 's disease hasn't taken from his wife.

Reuben and Evelyn Ewert have been married 58 years. In that time, they had four kids and traveled the world as Evangelists.

"This is my favorite gal. she's a precious lady," Reuben said of his wife.

But he is the only one who can talk about their countless memories together. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer's four years ago.

"The commitment was ‘Till death do us part.' Not ‘Till Alzheimer's creeps in," Reuben said.

She moved to Peak Resources-Treyburn nursing facility in Durham last year. It was here that Reuben turned to music to help his wife battle the disease.

He said the music awakens what is still there.

"I don't focus on what she's lost. I focus on what she still has. She's still got a lot there," he said.

But not just any song will work, Reuben said. It has to be "her speed."

A smile can been seen across the face of Evelyn when she hears one of the hymns she loves come through the speakers.

Evelyn's social worker, Joe Winston, and Reuben know the music isn't a cure and it doesn't slow the effects of the disease but it does calm her.

Within two months of playing her music, they could see a difference.

"Seen drastic change in her behavior. Drastic change with her being compliant with staff giving her care. And, the amount of medicine that she has to get has decreased drastically," Winston said.

Evelyn doesn't need the amount of medications she once took after the start of the music.

"I think we ought to increase the dosage of music and decrease the dosage of anti-psychotic medication," Reuben said.

Winston said the short-term memories are gone but the music helps trigger long-term memories. The music beings her back to a certain point because she is in that moment, Winston said.

"One of the things that fulfills me the most is to see a smile and if I can go home and say, ‘She smiled 27 times.' Man, I've had a good day. Or one time, because I know what I've done, is I've reached into her heart," Reuben said.

Peak Resources –Treyburn hopes to start using music therapy for other patients if a grant becomes available through the "Music and Memory" program.

A rough-cut documentary on the program is being screened Tuesday. Old iPods are being accepted at the screening.

Read more about the Ewert's story.

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