Patients’ memories sparked by the soundtrack of their lives

Patients with dementia, Alzheimer’s re-connect through Music and Memory, a program soon to be launched in Victoria

A charity called Music and Memory, which aims to use music to trigger memories in the elderly and those with cognitive illnesses, has started operating on Vancouver Island.

The non-profit organization trains caregivers on how to select songs and personalize digital music playlists and has especially had success with patients suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia.

The organization is run by New Yorker Dan Cohen, who set it up in 2006 after volunteering in a nursing home and seeing how popular his digital playlists were with the residents. With an initial batch of 200 iPods, Music and Memory was born.

ALSO READ: Saanich Seniors: Retiree using music for the mind

Thousands of care homes and facilities across the U.S. and Canada now have digital music players, headphones, training and other related equipment, provided by the charity.

A video clip of one of the residents whose memory was sparked by listening to his favourite Cab Calloway songs went viral with more than 10 million views.

On Vancouver Island, Beacon Community Services has started rolling out the program and hopes to have Music and Memory equipment in all of its residential homes soon. The first two homes that were targeted were in Brentwood Bay and the next is in Sidney.

Within the next few months Sara Lawton, co-ordinator of volunteer services and youth employment programs, said they hope all 65 of their residents will have been included.

Beacon Community Services also runs an advocacy program for seniors, many of whom feel they have been ‘left behind’ in the analogue past and have not been assisted into today’s digital world.

“We have volunteers helping residents with the music but also online things too. And not just that, we also provide help with paperwork, like wills or help writing a letter to contest a driving license being stopped,” said Lawton. “We are not experts but we provide support and point them in the direction of experts if needed.”

Ina Timmer, who volunteers with the retirement communities in Brentwood Bay, describes how the residents experience strong reactions to the music.

“They come alive when they hear the music. They are amazed they can remember the words to some of the songs. Some clap or cry. It brings all their feelings back, it’s beautiful.”

In the words of Henry’s favourite singer, Cab Calloway:

“Love is now the stardust of yesterday

The music of the years gone by.

Sometimes I wonder, how I spend

The lonely nights

Dreaming of a song

The melody

Haunts my reverie

And I am once again with you

When our love was new

And each kiss an inspiration.”

Nick.murray@peninsulanewsreview.com

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