Got a minute? Find out how Drew Johnson Laney is enhancing lives

Posted by Monica Hoel

On Thursdays, you can often find Drew Johnson Laney (re’83) playing the ukulele and singing with a bunch of stuffed animals on Zoom.

But don’t worry about her: she’s working.

A Board-Certified Music Therapist, Drew organizes a regular Zoom sing-a-long for folks dealing with Alzheimer’s disease. While interviewing the president of the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA) on her Radio Free Nashville radio show, she found out about a lot of online activities the AFA has scheduled for patientsDrew Johnson Laney is all smiles as she leads a Zoom sing-along for Alzheimer's patients.and their caregivers. She had been teaching a ukulele class and had recently had to move it online because of COVID-19: and she saw an opportunity.

Now, some of her ukulele students get to practice with her while she leads the group in a “muted mic sing-along” – the sound delay is just too distracting, so Drew is the only one you hear singing! She sings songs people aged 50-100 are likely to know without looking at a song book. “I avoid using songs that require a lyric page because of less eye contact (thank you Dr. Chick Davis). I try to throw in trivia, stretching, hydration, COVID masks, hats, sit down dancing, and tasteful goofiness.” That’s why there are so many stuffed animals attending her sessions.

Drew says musical activities like this have a variety of good health benefits. “It can create an emotional connection to their younger days, it stimulates word recall and the Broca area of the brain, and singing also strengthens the speaking voice and forces deeper breathing therefore benefiting lung elasticity. Some folks can sing long after they have ceased to speak. And it can also be an activity for adult children and their parents to share that is free of anxiety.” She gets great feedback from participating families who let her know that the sing-a-longs “brightened mom’s day!” or “perked her up and added positivity!”

Drew was one of only 4 music majors while at Emory & Henry, and she says she didn’t realize what a gift that small size was until she went to other larger schools. And she is grateful for the instruction she received from all the members of the music department, including piano lessons with Dee Dee Davis. “Mrs. Davis’ Piano Pedagogy class helped me prepare for music therapy activities. Her style of teaching was always intelligent and kind.”

It may seem a little crazy to record a group sing-along with participants who are muted, but Drew will attest that the interaction with fun, happy people will go a long way to improve the day of an Alzheimer’s patient. “When pleasant, trustworthy faces come into view for an isolated person, it’s like a bouquet of flowers, a gift with no strings attached. These songs and friendly faces can help a person with Alzheimer’s feel the familiarity of warm relationships.”

You can find out more about this musical event and other AFA programming at alzfdn.org.

  • Drew Johnson Laney with guitar and a big smile leading friends in music.
Drew Johnson  Laney
E&H reunion Class of 1983
Board Certified Music Therapist

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