By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — Neuroscience research shows that music has a powerful effect on memory.
But you probably do not need to read neuroscience research to know that.
Do you and your spouse or significant other have a “special song?”
Is there a song that makes you think about your mom or dad? Being in school? Riding the bus? Football games? Summer? Your first car? Your first date? Getting married? Your children?
Colfax Health and Rehabilitation Center is hoping to spark all of those memories and many more for residents through the Music and Memory program.
Breanne Wieser, a life enrichment aide at CHRC, recently completed formal training on implementing the Music and Memory program.
The basic premise of Music and Memory is that residents in elder care facilities are given iPods loaded with personalized play lists of music.
“We will start with 15 iPods and headphones (at Colfax Health and Rehab). That’s what the program pays for, along with a $50 iTunes card. We will start there. We will choose 15 residents and talk to their families and talk to the residents to find out and pinpoint music they listened to when they were younger or what music they like now,” Wieser said.
“We can also do audio books. We can record family members’ voices. We have a resident who likes to sing with her family, so I am hoping we can record them singing together so we can put it on the iPod so she can hear. They also can talk and say, ‘hello, how are you today? It’s your daughter or it’s your husband,’” she said, noting that lectures on a wide variety of topics are available through iTunes as well.
In addition to formal neuroscience research that confirms the connection between music and memory, a wide range of anecdotal evidence from many different elder care facilities shows that the iPods do make a difference in the lives of residents.
In one case, a resident would become agitated at meal time and instead of sitting down to eat would keep getting up from the table to wander around, Wieser said.
The resident began losing weight because he would not eat, but after staff members began giving him an iPod before mealtime, he would sit for most of the meal and eventually began to gain back the weight he had lost, she said.
The Music and Memory website is full of such stories about elderly residents, who, through music, develop an improved connection with their surroundings and with the people around them, The music helps residents to communicate better, to be more animated, to experience less agitation — and in some cases, to feel less pain.
“They have done a lot of research on the facilities that have the program. The research shows that residents are happier, more social, and the relationships among staff, residents and families (become stronger),” Wieser said.
“We can connect more than one headphone to the iPod itself. That way, if we see that a certain song sparks a certain connection with a resident, we can find out who the artist is and what other songs the artist has done that will connect with them,” she said.
“Our goal is to have a designated iPod for every room in our skilled nursing facility. We are hoping in the future to add on the CBRF and the assisted living with an iPod for every room and that we will have the staff available to help them in making a personalized play list that will connect with that person,” she said.
The iPods have also been shown to decrease the need for anti-psychotic medications, and music is a therapy that has no side effects, Wieser said.
Wieser said she hopes to have the iPods by the end of February and to start the program in March.
“It will take time to find the specific songs. That’s a big part of it is finding the specific songs that spark memories and interest for particular residents. It is not only for people with dementia. It’s for everyone with any cognitive or physical disabilities,” she said.
“We were worried about the headphones. But I talked to people from other nursing homes that have them and to the director (of Music and Memory), Dan Cohen, and they say it is not a bother. It’s amazing how (the residents) find magic in that little box and they really enjoy it,” Wieser said.
CHRC will be holding donation drives around the community to buy more iPods and for iTunes gift cards.
“Any money that goes toward iTunes gift cards, any music that we download through iTunes, we can use for any and every resident from here on out,” Wieser said.
The ability to use music that has been downloaded through iTunes for more than one resident — or for all residents — for as long as CHRC uses the Music in Memory program means that any money donated toward iTunes will have an even larger impact.
“We are hoping, too, that it will help connect younger family members. They are pretty familiar with that technology. ‘Grandma has an iPod!’” Wieser said.
“We will accept iTunes gift cards or money. Everything is tax deductible,” she noted.
Colfax Health and Rehabilitation Center is a non-profit facility.
“We can accept iPods and even old iPhones too. If people are getting a new iPhone and want to donate their old one to (CHRC) the phone part can be disabled and we can use the iPhone itself to play music. We’re hoping that shortly we will be able to have enough iPods for everyone in the facility,” Wieser said.
CHRC has music daily on the activity program, “but this gives us another tool to add music that is resident-centered and individual to each person,” Wieser said.
“We can get lectures on anything, too. They offer free lectures on iTunes for any topic out there. The audio books and the lectures will add to it as well. It will help the residents gain independence, too, because they can choose what they want to listen to. They can add and remove and it will be available to them 24/7,” she said.
Jill Gengler, CHRC administrator, and Teresa Waddell, CHRC director of nursing, saw Cohen’s YouTube video about Music and Memory at a conference they attended, Wieser said.
“The iPods are durable and will be able to provide almost an endless activity for residents,” she said.
The Music and Memory website contains lists of articles related to current neuroscience research showing the benefits of music for people with dementia or other physical and cognitive disabilities.
For more information on the Music and Memory program, visit www.musicandmemory.org.