Saint John Valley Nursing Home Using Music to Connect with Dementia Patients
Dan Cohen, Executive Director and founder of the non-profit Music & Memory program, is featured in the new film Alive Inside. He says he wanted to be able to listen to his favorite sixties music if he ever ended up in a nursing home. Music and Memory is a non-profit organization that brings personalized music into the lives of people through digital music technology, thus greatly improving their quality of life.
Forest Hill Rehabilitation and Skilled Nursing Center in Fort Kent is one of five Music Certified facilities in Aroostook County. Led by Forest Hill Activities Coordinator, Charlene Taggart, and Music Coordinator Catherine St. Pierre, Forest Hill was successful in May of this year securing a grant and becoming a Music and Memory Certified facility.
With the support of the Music and Memory program, Forest Hill was able to leverage a grant toward purchase of technology intended to help reconnect its residents to music. The program also provides assistance to facilities for the creation of personalized playlists using iPods and other digital audio system, with a goal of reconnecting each resident with world of music and triggering memories that have been locked inside the brain.
Philip Madore, a resident at Forest Hill for the past year, is an example of the benefits of music therapy. According to the family, Madore’s level of interaction had declined over time. After music therapy, his daughter Susan Dionne said, “Listening to Dad sing was absolutely awesome! A flood of very good memories came to mind and the few songs he sang have been going on in my head since. His eyes were awake and alert, which we haven’t seen in a long time. Watching Dad’s reaction and hearing him sing was priceless! And we could tell the wheels kept turning after his singing.”
Mr. Madore’s daughter Susan and wife Florence shared with the Forest Hill staff some words from a song their Dad used to sing on their road trips. The staff searched online for the song lyrics and matched them up with the song title “Under the Bridges of Paris” by Dean Martin, originally recorded in 1955. Still uncertain if they had captured the right piece of music, they played it for the resident.
Charlene Taggart says “His facial expression was priceless. Then yesterday, the music coordinator sat with resident and family, listening to the song. The resident just started singing! Tears and hugs were shared and the resident continued on with another song by himself, just leaving everyone speechless.”
St. Pierre says the real work is finding the right song to trigger the individual’s memory. Neuroscience brain imaging has shown that when we listen to music virtually the entire brain is involved. Even if parts of the brain are damaged, it can respond to music when the right memory is triggered.
The Forest Hill program has acquired six new or slightly used iPods and is looking to add four more. These will go to the first ten residents selected to participate in the program. Over the next year, St, Pierre says the staff will involve families to narrow down music preferences of program participants.
Forest Hill has plans to expand beyond the iPod program by adding singing and playing musical instruments. Dialogue is underway with local schools and the University of Maine at Fort Kent to assemble an intergenerational choir by December of this year. Special drums which attach to the walkers of residents will be purchased as part of the music ensemble. And D & J Electronics recently donated 9 flutes to the facility's music therapy program.
With a seven-hundred-dollar donation from the Northern Maine Medical Center Guild, other additions will be made, including headphones and iTunes gift cards.
To learn how you can contribute to the program, call 207-834-1859.To learn more about NMMC’s services, to make a donation, or to learn about volunteer opportunities, visit the website and on Facebook.
Videos on the Music & Memory program can be watched here.