Posted by Robin Krawczyk
“Music can transport an individual to another place and time, often unlocking fond memories from their youth or special events in their lives.” –Music & Memory
Last summer JF&CS received a generous grant from the Association of Jewish Family and Children’s Agencies (AJFCA) to become certified in Music & Memory. Music & Memory is a nonprofit organization that brings a personalized music program that is traditionally used in residential settings to individuals experiencing memory loss. At JF&CS, we are expanding the scope of use to include the different populations we serve. We set up highly personalized music playlists on iPods for our clients who are experiencing symptoms due to mental or physical illness, including memory loss, agitation, pain, or anxiety. Specific artists and songs are the key to Music & Memory’s success because musical favorites tap deep memories that can restore a sense of peace and comfort, bring individuals back to life, and help people feel like themselves again.
After only a few months of working with Music & Memory, I have been humbled and heartened to bear witness to some amazing reactions. With each participant, I find a new and important benefit. For some, it is simply the re-introduction of music into their lives since many older adults have albums and cassette tapes with no way to listen to them. For others, it has provided care partners an opportunity to make a phone call while their loved one is fully engaged. In today’s world where prescriptions are so widely used, it is refreshing to have an intervention available with no risk of side effects. We are grateful to have access to this wonderful tool to share with our clients.
Memories and Connections
Ann*, a Charlotte & Richard Okonow Parkinson’s Family Support client smiled as she listened to the Beatles and recalled memories of kids playing. She shared that this specific music marked the time in her life when her children were young and playful.
Mike*, a World War II veteran with advanced dementia and agitation, expressed that “music is life.” His care partner noted with surprise that Mike was uncharacteristically calm and gentle during our conversation about music.
Al*, a client with early onset Alzheimer’s disease, suddenly remembered a prank that he and his friends played in the school office at their high school as I played the Rolling Stones You Can’t Always Get What You Want. Then hearing Sinatra’s The Way You Look Tonight, I was touched to see him invite his teenage daughter to dance.
Steve, an attendee of our Memory Café with early onset Alzheimer’s disease used his iPod on a recent trip to help him acclimate to the unfamiliar surroundings upon waking. His wife noted that because of the music he had no need for anxiety medication throughout the trip. She shared that the music has provided Steve with “a place of his own that he can go to” and added that it has offered him something that he can offer to his friends and family. On Valentine’s Day, they had a date of listening to the music together by the fire. By using splitters, the music on the iPod can easily be shared with friends, family, and grandchildren as a way to connect at a time when traditional conversation is often challenging. Indeed, music is good for the soul!
To learn more about Music & Memory, I would encourage you to view the documentary, Alive Inside, available on Netflix. It is an inspiring video that brings to life the use of this program by its creator, Dan Cohen.
Robin Krawczyk, LICSW, is the Community Education and Training Specialist for Services for Older Adults. She is a Mental Health and Housing team member providing training and consultation for staff and residents in independent senior housing. Robin has worked with older adults in hospital, hospice, and residential settings. Previously, she was a Case Manager in JF&CS Guardianship for elders at risk of abuse and neglect.
*Names changed to protect privacy.