Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart is helping neuroscientists in California to explore the relationship between rhythm and brain function.
Hart has made rhythm and its many applications his lifelong business. At 74, Hart, has not only stayed young by playing percussion, he has spent the last many years exploring how it may help prevent the aging of the human brain.
“Rhythm is connection,” he <says. “It’s everything. It’s life.”
Just how connected is easy to see once you’ve had a look at the inside of Hart’s brain. During a recent series of performances, the pulsating image of Hart’s cranium spanned the huge dome of Hayden Planetarium, illustrating how different parts of his sensory system light up and vibrate when exposed to various musical stimuli.
Although Hart’s demonstrations are entertainment, his message runs more deeply: rhythm and vibration heal the brain. Dementia, he says, is the “loss of rhythm.” And he, along with notables who collaborated on the eventare all at work searching for pathways that can bypass obstacles to function and cognition. Hart has also worked on music as a therapeutic tool for brain function.
Taking up an instrument as a child and playing through adulthood is one proven way to protect one’s brain. But learning later in life is helpful, too. Hart shares the story of his unlikely best friend, Walter Cronkite, who was 73 when he became a Deadhead and also started playing the drums.
In July of 2009, as Cronkite lay dying from complications of cerebrovascular disease, Hart handed him a hand drum. “He could no longer speak, but he could play,” Hart says, tears in his eyes. “He used to ask, ‘When we do we know we have found our groove?’ Well, he found it.”