Close your eyes for just a moment and think back to the first time you heard music. How old were you? What was your favorite song? How did that song make you feel? Music has an amazing ability to transport us to a specific time and place, to evoke emotions attached to a memory almost instantly. It is as if music has left footprints in our mind that can be retraced to memories once thought long forgotten.
The Baptist Home staff at Chillicothe recently had the opportunity to attend a seminar about how music can be used therapeutically for people who suffer from memory loss. Guest speaker Dan Cohen, the executive director and founder of Music and Memory, shared how his organization has been helping hundreds of elderly, nursing home residents who suffer from Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia reconnect with the use of personalized music. The results shared by Mr. Cohen were so compelling that Administrator Lynn Jackson and Assistant Administrator Ruthie Meyers were convinced they wanted to offer the same treatment to our residents.
“Music has more ability to activate more parts of the brain than any other stimulus.” – Oliver Sacks, M.D.
Ruthie began sharing with resident families during care plan meetings about the use of personalized music therapy to treat dementia and within a couple of weeks she received new headphones and an iPod (portable listening device) already loaded with music from a nephew who wanted his aunt, Ann Joy Herman, to have her own personalized playlist. Oftentimes, Ann Joy was uncommunicative and would rarely talk. When she received her iPod and began listening to her favorite music, the results Ruthie and others witnessed were almost immediate. Staff reported she would listen to her music for hours and became vocal when the iPod was taken away saying, “Where are you taking that!” When Ann Joy declined to the point she needed hospice care, the Home purchased an external speaker and played her iPod next to her bed so she could listen to her music through her last days.
Ruthie admitted that when she first heard about this form of music therapy she was a bit cynical. “You know after you’ve been in this industry for twenty-plus years and you hear about a ‘new’ thing to try, sometimes it just falls by the wayside. However, Dan Cohen, who has been studying this form of therapy for many years, has had amazing results which have been documented in a film called Alive Inside. The movie chronicles how music has changed the lives of many people who suffer from varying forms of dementia, memory loss and even bipolar disorder. After hearing Mr. Cohen speak and seeing the dramatic improvement of residents like Henry in the film, well, I can’t argue with those results.”
When a resident is identified as someone who might benefit from personalized music therapy, Ruthie works closely with the family and the resident, if possible, to choose his or her favorite music. “The experts tell us to choose music they would have enjoyed between the ages of 11-25,” Ruthie said. “There is something about having the music play directly in your ears that allows you to feel the music and remember a song that has a memory attached, thereby helping to reestablish identity. The claim is that the music can actually stimulate neurological pathways in the brain in a way that nothing else can.”
Another resident currently using music therapy is Rev. Jim Grubbs. His wife, Una, has been primarily responsible for ensuring that he listens to his music regularly. “When the iPod batteries run low, Una comes to find me right away to recharge it,” Ruthie said. While Jim’s response to the music has been subtle, he is noticeably moving his fingers along with the music. “We can tell the music is reaching him,” Ruthie said. Rev. Grubbs’ playlist includes some Elvis, big band tunes, scripture readings and even recordings of his granddaughters playing the violin.
“Music connects people with who they have been and who they are in their lives.” – Dan Cohen, founder of Music and Memory
The Baptist Home has been using music to minister to residents for over 100 years, but the idea of creating a personalized list of favorite music for each resident is new. We are excited to see how this form of therapy will benefit our residents and their families. “Our goal, Ruthie said, “is to have enough iPods available to provide this ministry to every resident who needs it.”
When asked how people who were interested could help, Ruthie said, “We need gently used or new iPods and people willing to volunteer an hour or two to help download the music. Teenagers are welcome!” If you would like more information on how you can help with this new and exciting ministry, please contact Ruthie Meyers at 660-646-6219 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Additional information on this form of therapy can be found at www.musicandmemory.org and www.aliveinside.us.