The Music & Memory Program

Leah Powers, Activity Assistant | March 28, 2017

Throughout the month of June, Villa St. Francis will be collecting new and gently used iPods, headphones, and iPod chargers at the front desk. Questions? Contact Priscilla Salinas at 913.747.0282.

The woman in the corner of the room doesn’t chat, and can’t answer when asked what she would like for lunch. She cannot always tell whether the nurse with her morning meds and orange juice is her daughter, and she is often scared. Somedays, she cries and asks for her oldest sister, who has been deceased for a decade. The woman has dementia, and she rarely even remembers her husband’s name. But today, in this moment, she is in a different place. Today, she is moving her fingers and tapping her toes. She is smiling and looking out the window, while listening to a small box, and swaying to a song that only she can hear. She is not so confused, she is dancing with a memory of a time when things were much more simple. She is in a place where she has been before, and she is not afraid. Watching her is almost a reward, for the experience of seeing someone who hasn’t communicated with staff or family react with such enjoyment. 

The box is an iPod. Americans everywhere have them, from children to the woman in the corner of the room. It is filled with music, chosen by a group of family members, friends, therapists, and nurses who care for the woman’s every need around the clock. It was chosen from movies the woman loves, her wedding memories, long drives in the car, and some her favorites dances. They are songs that trigger memories, or make her feel at ease. The music is from all times of her life, and has helped form a large part of who the woman is today. This woman is part of the Music and Memory Program at Villa St. Francis. 

The Music and Memory Program was implemented in early January, 2017, and with the help of donors, Villa St. Francis now has 19 iPods and over 1,300 songs to share with our residents. Staff members were selected and trained on how to use the devices and load the software. They were also trained on the best ways to determine the right music for residents who are unable to remember the titles or bands that they love so much. Hours of planning, learning, and implementing were spent. In this moment, I am watching in awe, the woman listening to the music. I am so thankful for the opportunity we have been given to utilize such an amazing program, and the chance to share it with you.

When I was introduced to The Music and Memory Program and asked to be involved, I was more than excited to help, as I am a music lover myself. I am a retired United States Army veteran, and spent several months deployed, and visited several different countries. During this time, I remember hearing songs that would make me feel like I was home. I found songs with lyrics I related to, or that had a beat that made me want to move. I would listen sometimes for hours, and I would feel comfort. The music made me remember a time a time that was much more simple. I  remember humming a tune that I would sing to my small baby girl when I was home and rocking her to sleep. Music has really helped push me through some tough times. It was then that I learned the importance of music as a form of therapy. 

I am excited to share the progress of the Music and Memory program at Villa St. Francis, and how our residents both with and without dementia have responded. We have several residents using iPods, who keep them and play them as they please. One woman likes to put together a community puzzle, and she listens to her music diligently as she works. If you are really lucky, you can glance over when Eddie Rabbitt is playing, “I Love a Rainy Night”, and she is her shaking her tail feather. She stands and sways along with, “I Will Always Love you”, by Elvis, and she daydreams of slow dancing with her husband. When asked how she feels when the music plays, she replied, “I feel like I am young again, and can remember the first time I heard certain songs.” 

Another man sits in his chair with a smile on his face and dances, claps, and taps his feet to Polka style music, from his home country. At this time, Villa St. Francis has set a goal to have an iPod for each resident to use, if they would like to participate. 

“Music is all about transporting people, speaking a language which languages fail to express.” A.R. Rahman. I really like that quote. When the words cannot be shared, often enough music can still make a statement. Life is a blessing that everyone reading this possesses. Each day will be different than the one before, and never comes with a guarantee of another. The tune you carry your days out to is up to you. The memories that you get lost in, the way a certain melody can put your body into motion – this is the music of your life! Carry that tune, that melody, and hold those memories close. Jam out to this amazing, beautiful and never guaranteed day! It is your song, your playlist, and you will have forever the music in your heart. 

For videos, stories, and more information on the Music & Memory program, check out their website. To donate an iPod or find out how you can get involved, contact Maureen Suprenant at (913) 829-5201 or send us a message.