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Music & Memory program helps people with Alzheimer's, dementia

Summit Place Music Program - helping a resident listen to music
Nov 17th, 2016

Featured in Eden Prairie News

By Patty Dexter

 

Laura Weum first learned of the Music & Memory program after seeing the documentary “Alive Inside.”
 

Resident listening to music - music therapyThe documentary explores the benefits of music to combat memory loss, and touches on Music & Memory, a nonprofit formed by Dan Cohen. After seeing the film with her daughter, Weum was inspired to incorporate music into her mother’s care.
 

Before her passing in June 2015, Dee Gergen lived at Summit Place Senior Campus in Eden Prairie. Gergen had Alzheimer’s disease for about 12 years and had been living in Summit Place’s memory care neighborhood for the last few years of her life.
 

Weum, a former Eden Prairie resident and now a memory care program coordinator at Summit Place, said Music & Memory was not offered at the time her mother lived there, but she personally began bringing an iPod and headphones for her mother to use during their visits.
 

Gergen enjoyed listening to Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and show tunes. Weum’s decision caught on and other families began to bring personalized music for their loved ones to listen to.
 

“She would smile. She would sing along, she would tap her feet. I would use it when she would be agitated or she was in the car,” Weum said.
 

Weum began working for Summit Place a little over a year ago and has been working to bring Music & Memory to the location as a formal program for its residents. Money provided through a memorial in her mom’s name helped make this a reality and the program was implemented in early October.
 

“We have 32 iPods and the staff have been trained to use these to help them when the residents are agitated, or experiencing ‘sundowning’ ... or using (them) on non-communicative residents who will start to sing every word to a song,” she explained.
 

Personalized Music

 

Music Therapy - Resident listening to musicMusic & Memory is a nonprofit that trains elder care professionals on how to provide individualized music to clients or residents with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, or who suffer from other mental, physical or social challenges. Cohen, the organization’s executive director, first conceived the idea in 2006 and thought about bringing new or gently used iPods to nursing homes and introducing personalized play lists. He piloted a program at a Long Island nursing home and the concept eventually grew into the nonprofit, according to the organization’s website.
 

The music program has been started in more than 60 elder care facilities in the United States and Canada. Castle Ridge Presbyterian Homes & Service, a senior living community in Eden Prairie and New Perspective Senior Living, a company based in Eden Prairie, are also certified in the program, according to Music & Memory’s website.
 

“Decades of neuroscience research about the brain-music connection have built a strong case for the ways that familiar music associated with significant personal memories can help dementia patients reconnect with the world, at least for a time,” the nonprofit’s website states. According to the nonprofit, a 2012 survey indicated that “professional staff felt personalized music had significantly benefited their residents.”
 

According to Weum, some staff were nervous about using the iPod shuffles at first because they were afraid of the iPods being lost or broken, but so far she’s gotten positive feedback about the program.
 

The frequency that Summit Place residents listen to the music ranges from several times a day to a few times week. The response to the music varies by individual and can change hourly or daily. Each resident has a personalized play list and many of them enjoy listening to patriotic music, Frank Sinatra or other 1940s era music, Weum said.
 

Teresa Becker, an aide with Lifesprk, (company providing health services at Summit Place), said the program has made her job easier because it makes her residents happier.
 

“I was kind of surprised by which residents really responded to it,” she said. “Some of the residents, it’s super hard to please them on anything and they love their music.”
 

Becker said the music has helped residents who are usually anxious to be more calm while others have eaten better or been more willing to do certain activities after listening to it. The music is used to not only help residents with behavioral issues, it also helps them have more enjoyment in their day.
 

“Some of them love the music and so it just makes them happy to have music playing,” she said.
 

Weum said the music brings dignity back to the residents and also gives family members a way to connect with their loved ones. Head phone splitters were also acquired so visitors can listen to music with their loved ones simultaneously.
 

“You see joy where there wasn’t joy and it’s been rewarding for everybody to see,” she said.
 

Weum said the next goal for the program is to get it incorporated as a regular part of residents’ care plans and daily schedules, and to expand it to other SilverCrest Properties communities.

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