Close up of a grandfather having breakfast with his grandchildren

Bringing Music & Memory to Blakeford

Bringing Music & Memory to Blakeford

In June 2014, I came across a trailer for the documentary film Alive Inside. I was immediately taken with the film’s subject – the ability of music to reawaken memories thought to be lost through a program called Music & Memory. Now, a little more than a year later, Blakeford is a certified Music & Memory community at the beginning of launching this amazing program on our campus. What may seem an easy task – creating individual playlists for residents – actually involves more than you might think. Each resident has different musical tastes, different backgrounds, and, of course, different memories. Some residents aren’t able to communicate so family members provide assistance. This takes time and several team members volunteering to be a part of the process. Maggie McPeak, Life Enrichment Coordinator at Woodcrest, oversees the logistics and training for the program. My role is to tell the story of Music & Memory at Blakeford. Other team members – Holli, KJ, Blake, Brittany, Jennifer, Pat, Marie, Rhonda, Sarah, Laura, and Elizabeth – are excited to work one-on-one with residents to create a connection with them and build a growing music library. Helping us in the journey is Deborah Ferris, Regional Director of Music & Memory. Deborah was kind enough to answer questions about the program, her connection with it, and what it can mean for residents, families, and team members.

How did you become involved with Music & Memory?
My mother had a sixteen-year Alzheimer’s journey. The last nine years of her life were spent in facility-based care. She was unable to verbalize her needs for the last five years. One of the things I did to enhance her quality of life was to provide her with her favorite music via the use of a single CD player and headphones.

The month before she passed on, I was online researching the subject of therapeutic music for elders because of the positive reaction she had to her personalized music. I saw the video clip of Henry at the Music & Memory website for the first time. As soon as I watched the video of Henry, I knew exactly what was taking place. It was similar to the reaction my mother would have. She seemed to time-travel to another place. She would start to hum or sing. It was transformative.

A few months later, I became a full-time volunteer ambassador for the program and ultimately had the good fortune to join the Music & Memory team.

Why is this program important?
It’s important because of the joy and enhanced quality of life it brings to program participants. If we have the power, awareness and knowledge to provide this therapeutic program to deserving individuals, it’s not only our responsibility; it’s our great joy to do it.

There are many wonderful programs available. However, I consider Music & Memory’s program to be unmatched in the transformative results that it can bring forth for an individual.

What do you see as the top benefits to residents who participate in Music & Memory?
The program was intended to bring joy and enhance quality of life for elders. Those were really the only goals founder, Dan Cohen, had in mind when he first began experimenting with personalized music. However, we have discovered that there are so many additional benefits and by-products of the program.

Increased communication is very important. When someone who is non-verbal begins to speak again, sometimes for the first time in years, it’s very powerful. Everyone around them can be positively affected. When individuals are more alert and engaged, it often results in increased participation in activities and therapies. Reduction in the use of pain, anti-anxiety, anti-depressant and anti-psychotic medications is also very important.

But for me, the most important benefit comes back to touching someone’s spirit. Changing a life in a positive way.

How are families responding to the program?
Family members love the program. It can often provide renewed hope for them. Many of them have exhausted all efforts to try and offer something that can benefit their loved one and truly make a difference in their lives. It’s never too early or too late to introduce this program to an individual. And often times, it can provide the opportunity for family members to create some wonderful and lasting memories with those they love.

How are staff members responding?
Staff member can be skeptical at first. It’s hard to imagine that a single program can accomplish so much. Their greatest concern is usually the time it takes to properly implement the program. However, when they begin to see the results, those thoughts quickly change and we often hear comments like, “We wish we had done this sooner.”

Often, program participants are more responsive and cooperative. This has a direct effect on the delivery of ADL’s (activities of daily living). When staff can become more efficient, they learn that the program can ultimately save them valuable time.

What does it take to create and sustain a successful Music & Memory program in a community?
First, it takes an administrator or manager that is engaged, supportive and understands the program. It can’t be implemented over night. It’s a facility-wide, transformative program. It’s designed to set up residence in a care environment and evolve over time.

Personalized, favorite music takes time to discover. If not done properly, it will negatively affect the results of the program for participants, assessments and case studies.
Another important factor has to do with the implementation team. A well prepared, trained, diverse and expansive team is vital to success. One or two people with full-time responsibilities cannot implement this program properly. The responsibilities should be divided among a minimum of five staff members with support from volunteers.

Communication is the other key element. This is a great opportunity to bring the whole care community together as a team. With buy in from all staff and family members, you will have the support you need long-term.

Julie Dowd is Communications Specialist for Blakeford, Inc. In her role, she is responsible for delivering a consistent brand message throughout the Blakeford campus and general community through social media marketing, publicity, internal communication vehicles, and new media opportunities.