The holidays are a time of joy and celebration. But for the 5.7 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias (ADRD) – and their families – it can be a season of angst and isolation.
A groundbreaking program called Music & Memory™ has brought life-changing hope to people who suffer from ADRD, helping to trigger memories, build bridges, and improve quality of life. Launched in 2006 by Dan Cohen, the program took the spotlight with the 2014 documentary, “Alive Inside: A Story of Music & Memory,” and was recently endorsed by legendary singer-songwriter Carole King. With the therapeutic effects of personalized music, many people living with ADRD become more aware, animated, and “alive inside.”
“Research has found that music can penetrate parts of the brainless affected by ADRD,” says Callie Whitwell, chief operating officer, and founding partner of Lifetime Wellness. Her company offers Music& Memory in several senior living communities and was one of the first organizations in Texas to receive a grant for the program. “Familiar songs – especially holiday carols – have healing power. They can help people with cognitive challenges to access deep memories, feel less agitated, and reconnect. With holiday music everywhere around us, this time of year is a prime time to help those with ADRD tap into memories associated with these treasured tunes.”
Revisiting Treatment Options
About 70 percent of residents with ADRD living in memory care and care facilities are reported to have behavioral and psychiatric symptoms, often treated with antipsychotic drugs. The Music & Memory program offers a different pathway to treatment.
A recent study from Brown University found that people with dementia who were part of the Music & Memory program were more likely to stop the use of antipsychotic and anti-anxiety drugs and less likely to exhibit problematic behaviors. A similar study is underway in California.
Susan McKinney, vice president of operations at Lifetime Wellness, describes how the program works. “Staff consult with each resident and the resident’s family to create a personalized playlist, delivered on iPods and other digital devices. We’ve seen so many residents who were uncommunicative put the earbuds on – and begin to smile and talk again, or even burst into song.”
McKinney offers the story of a resident who participated in the Music & Memory program at a Lifetime Wellness partner community. “Dementia has impaired her ability to communicate,” McKinney says. “In collaboration with her family, we put together a playlist of classic hits from her favorite decade, the ‘70s. Her husband described the change in her this way: ‘When she listens to the songs she loves, my wife lights up. Any smile or reaction I see in her lets me know that she is still with me.’”
Music & Memory supports not only residents and their families but also care professionals. “Caregivers get back time lost to navigating challenges in resident behavior – along with a new approach in their effort to reduce reliance on antipsychotic medications,” Whitwell notes. “Also, as staff help prepare the playlists, they learn more about the residents they serve. Knowing more about each resident’s life story can help caregivers provide more personalized care.”
Texas Health and Human Services through its Quality Monitoring Program has conducted a study on how Music & Memory can increase staff retention and satisfaction in the memory care and senior living industry. Industry observers believe the program can help deter “compassion fatigue” and high employee turnover rates that continue to challenge the senior living industry.
Reaching Out to the Community
“It’s a simple way to reach people with dementia who so often seem beyond reach,” Whitwell says. “Your donation to the program will truly be the gift that keeps on giving. We also accept donations any time for those we serve in our communities. Items such as individual music players (gently used or new), iTunes gift cards, and headphones help support the program locally.”