Music & Memory Program Connects People with their Past and Present

A song from our past can instantly transport us to another place and another time – a song may take us back to our first dance, and we remember the quiet joy of a first love. A melody’s ability to help us remember the happy times in our lives is the basis of Music & Memory℠, a non-profit organization that brings personalized music into the lives of elderly people or those suffering from illness.

Carol Hartong, Nurse Sally Danhart, and Ernestine Owens enjoy music on speakers in one of Good Shepherd’s day rooms.

Good Shepherd Nursing Home in Wheeling has incorporated Music & Memory into the lives of many of its residents to help them reconnect with the world through the memories that music can trigger.  Administrator Donald R. Kirsch said Good Shepherd adopted the personalized therapeutic music program to enhance the quality of life and social interactions of its residents who suffer from Alzheimer’s Disease and other cognitive impairments. “Music can help people to connect more effectively with staff, other residents and even with their own family members,” he said.

Sally Danhart, RN, who manages the Music & Memory program at Good Sheperd, said residents truly enjoy the program. “It’s wonderful to see residents open up and respond to the music,” she said. “It’s easy to see the program’s positive outcomes.”

The Music & Memory program is offered to all residents who move to Good Shepherd. “The program really helps people who are having a difficult time adjusting to life in a nursing home, especially those with advancing Alzheimer’s Disease,” she said. “When we play their music, we can actually see their anxiety decrease.”

As a result of a generous donation by a local family, all residents who express an interest in the program are given iPods, portable electronic devices that let them store and play digital music files.  Most residents find them easy to use. Activities Staff members help residents choose their favorite music, which the staff staffers download from iTunes through Good Shepherd’s iTunes account, so there’s no charge to residents to participate in the program. Once music has been transferred to the iPods, residents can then listen to their music using headphones or speakers.

For residents who cannot easily communicate their preferences, Mrs. Danhart says, “We watch to see which songs they respond to and build a playlist based on that.  We want them to have music they love.”

The program can help to minimize or eliminate some of the negative symptoms that Alzheimer’s Disease can bring. Most people know that the disease can cause cognitive problems such as mental decline, confusion, and forgetfulness, but many are unaware that Alzheimer’s can also cause behavioral problems like aggression, irritability, anger, and depression.

“When people hear their music, they just relax and the negative emotions decrease almost immediately,” Mrs. Danhart said. Instead of using prescribed medication to alleviate combativeness or aggression, staff now turn first to music. “It’s a non-pharmacological intervention,” she said.

Mrs. Danhart recently asked a few of the residents how the music makes them feel. Richard Clark said, ““When I listen to my music, it takes me back to the 60’s and 70’s when life was better.” Another said she feels good when she listens to her music. “I like to sing along,” Carol Hartong said.

A third resident said she can sit and listen to her music all afternoon. “It makes me feel good…like there’s something good left in the world,” she said. “No matter how bad I feel, when they start my music, I feel great. I have memories with some songs, and it’s like they’re still happening. No stations on the radio play music that good.”

About 45 people currently participate in the Music & Memory program, Mrs. Danhart said. Good Shepherd is one of 3,000 facilities in the U.S. and around the world that is certified to offer the popular program.

Good Shepherd Nursing Home is part of a continuum of senior living options offered by the non-profit Welty Corporation to deliver the features that discerning seniors need and want.