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Music triggers memories in Good Samaritan Society study

Dementia patients love their high school era music as much as the rest of us

Music and Memory: iPod and headphones can change the lives of dementia patients

A familiar melody can spark memories and change behaviors in people diagnosed with dementia, according to a recent study by the Good Samaritan Society.

Piloted at Good Samaritan Society – Sioux Falls Village in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Music & Memory found that music can significantly improve the lives of those living with dementia. It helps them engage with the world around them.

As part of the pilot, staff members chose music from the time when residents were between ages 16 and 30. Family members also gave suggestions.

Residents were introduced to the music using headphones and an iPod.

“I would use a splitter and listen with them to see what their reactions were,” said Reba Dannen, activity assistant at Sioux Falls Village.

Each person’s playlist was then tailored to their preferences.

“Reba has gone above and beyond in how to introduce it to people, trying to individualize,” said Administrator Alecia O’Neill.

"It’s amazing. I don’t know how else to say it. I was skeptical. But 90 percent of the people it’s been introduced to, it’s made a difference in their life." Reba Dannen, activity assistant

After trying different listening modes, some residents decided on ear buds, while others preferred headphones or small individual speakers.

Dannen said one of the first residents to try Music & Memory loves it. Her son carried on a full conversation with her — something he hadn’t been able to do for nearly a year.

Another resident slept most of the time, Dannen said. After the third song, he was up, and wanted to walk and talk. Previously, he slept through meals, but the music woke him up and encouraged him to eat everything on his plate.

Relax and enjoy

Sharon Fitzsimonds’ mother was a resident at Sioux Falls Village and took part in the Music & Memory study before she died. It helped her relax and enjoy her surroundings.

“It was a godsend,” Fitzsimonds said. “She was like a whole other person. It really calmed her down.”

Watch the video: Sharon Fitzsimonds talks about her mom’s experience

As O’Neill made her daily rounds, she discovered Fitzsimonds’ mom engaging with the tunes on her headphone.

“She was just singing away and just that smile and the relaxed expression on her face. You knew that she was in a good spot,” O’Neill said.

Staff at Sioux Falls Village saw so much positive change in the 15 pilot participants that they implemented the program throughout the building.

Once people are identified, new iPods and equipment become part of the resident’s nursing intervention. O’Neill stressed that Music & Memory isn’t just an activity. It can help with behaviors, pain, appetite stimulation and more.

“It’s amazing how something so simple can make such a difference in their lives,” Dannen said. “It’s fantastic.”

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Posted In Research, Senior Services