Voices in Our Ears, Portals to the Past

What’s your favorite song? Every decade in history has fostered its own collection of Billboard hits. Movie soundtracks, religious music, Broadway shows — our memories and emotions are deeply tied to music. Music is so powerful that it’s now being used to combat Alzheimer’s and dementia in older adults with a program called Music & MemorySM. Glenn Miller, Bing Crosby, The Andrews Sisters: they’re voices in our ears and portals to the past.

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Westtown High School student Ian and Recreation Assistant Bernie search the internet for Greek folk tunes.

The Music & Memory program at Barclay Friends received two $5,000 grants in December 2015 — one from Kendal Charitable Funds and one from the Jeanes Fund — to purchase staff training, iPods, headphones and music. The goal is to provide residents struggling with dementia with individualized music collected as a playlist — family members prove invaluable in assessing music preferences — in the hopes of increasing the number of times residents engage with the world around them, including making eye contact, smiling and laughing.  Ellen (above) enjoys the smooth sounds of golden oldie Frank Sinatra.

The program is grounded in extensive neuroscience research on the therapeutic and calming effects of music in geriatrics and nursing.

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Margaret croons “Danny Boy,” by The Irish Tenors, one of the songs on her playlist.

Resident Services Administrator Sarah Matas describes how agitation can interfere with the provision of care.“It can increase falls and accidents and can be a source of stress for all involved,” Sarah says. “Residents with cognitive impairments often have a lowered stress threshold, but when individualized music is introduced — and the term individualized is extremely important — that music evokes an emotional response tied to personal and positive memories. These are the connections we want to make.”