Music helps dementia patients connect with memoriesWritten by Brian Bohnert | | firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s no secret that music has a connection to personal memories.
Just one song has the power to call up vivid recollections of everything from that first kiss under the stars to that one late-summer road trip spent racking up miles down Interstate 75.
In an effort to enable those suffering from cognitive diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia to reconnect with the world through memories triggered by their favorite songs, several local nursing homes are implementing the Music & Memory program.
Founded in 2010 by Dan Cohen, Music & Memory is a nonprofit organization that provides personalized music to the elderly through digital music platforms in order to improve their overall quality of life.
The organization teaches nursing home staff, as well as family caregivers, how to create personalized playlists for residents on digital music devices like iPods.
“Short-term memory may be compromised, but one’s emotional system is still very much intact,” Cohen said. “When we love a song, it’s the connection with our emotions — not cognition — that we respond to. Hence, this is the backdoor to one’s cognition, to the parts of the brain (and ourselves) that are still functional.”
Music & Memory was born out of a simple idea: Someday, if Cohen were to end up in a nursing home, he would want to be able to listen to his favorite 1960s music.
While building upon his idea in 2006, Cohen could not find any of the nation’s 16,000 nursing homes were using iPods with their residents.
“Music means so much to everyone’s lives,” said Katie Gulgin, administrator with Otterbein Senior Lifestyle Choices. “One song to me may not mean the same thing (as it does) to another person. It’s about finding those songs that mean something special to someone.”
According to the Music & Memory website, songs associated with important personal events can trigger memory of the physical experience connected to the music. As a result, the music can often calm “chaotic brain activity” and enable the listener to “focus on the present moment and regain a connection to others.”
Each of Otterbein’s locations throughout Ohio — including its Perrysburg and Monclova communities — completed Music & Memory certification training as of March 5.
The Perrysburg site, located at 3529 Rivers Edge Drive, has already begun testing the effects of Music & Memory on one of its residents.
Gulgin said the resident — a woman who suffers from “severe dementia” — has communication limitations but has become more vocal and responsive since beginning the therapy.
“It’s something her son puts on for her,” she said. “When she’s feeling agitated, it calms her down.”
Gulgin said Otterbein is still trying to work out how each of the individual facilities is going to implement Music & Memory into its activity regimen.
“We should have a good portion of our facilities using the program by midyear,” Gulgin said.
Administrators with Foundation Park Alzheimer’s Care Center completed their Music & Memory training in March and are preparing to train the rest of the staff in the coming weeks.
Kathy Kuhlman, social service director with Foundation Park, said the facility currently only has 10 iPods, but is seeking donations to help obtain a music player for each of the 125 residents in the extended-care facility.
“We want to expand access to activities for residents who are normally unable to take part in (traditional) activities while, at the same time, decreasing negative behaviors and mood outbreaks,” Kuhlman said.
Kuhlman said Foundation Park has already decided which residents will receive the first 10 iPods and staff is in the process of contacting residents’ loved ones to obtain information about their favorite music.
For more information on the program, visit www.aging.ohio.gov/services/music-memory.