An older woman lay in bed, unresponsive. Her eyes were glazed over. She lacked movement. Her husband, sitting next to her in a wheelchair, was unsure of what to do. Most people would be unsure of what to do.
The woman was residing at Wesley Place, a Chicagoland Methodist Senior Services community. Despite everyone’s best efforts, she appeared lost in a fog. Lili Mugnier, the Arts Programming Coordinator, was in the room when everything changed.
She asked the woman’s husband if there was any song he and his wife associate with when they began dating. “Because of You,” by Tony Bennett, he told them. Without skipping a beat, Mugnier found the song on her smartphone and played it.
“The second the music started, her eyes widened. Her hand twitched. Her facial expression changed as she mouthed the words. Everyone started crying,” Mugnier said.
Dementia often creates a fog for the people who are dealing with its effects. Finding a crack through that fog, even just a sliver, can feel impossible at times.
Music can function as an important, emotional connection that acts like a lifeline, Mugnier explained. Dementia can affect our memory and cognitive abilities, but not our emotional senses. Music can improve the quality of life for people with dementia and their loved ones, by triggering dormant memories associated with particular songs.
The power of music is why CMSS has partnered with Music & MemorySM, a music therapy program for those with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia that is gaining traction across the country and internationally.
The Music & MemorySM Program
Music and MemorySM was founded in 2010 with a simple goal: bring music to older adults with dementia. In 2012, a documentary about the organization and their work, Alive Inside: A Story of Music and MemorySM, was produced.
This film went a long way to spreading the message of Music & MemorySM and increasing the awareness of how beneficial music can be for people with dementia.
As we’ve previously written, music plays a huge role in the health of older adults. “We see the best results when the music is specific and meaningful to the individual,” Mugnier explained. Songs from a person’s childhood or a significant portion of their lives tend to have the best reactions.
Staff and volunteers at CMSS are currently undergoing training and certification through the Music & MemorySM program to bring the benefits of the program directly to CMSS clients.
It is important to note that these benefits don’t always take on an outward appearance. The example of the Wesley Place resident, who showed the visible impact music can have on people, is only one of many ways people may respond. Not everyone has the physical ability or energy to react as she did; however, a lack of a visible response does not mean that someone is not benefitting from the music.
“In everything we do, we aren’t playing to get a reaction or response,” Mugnier said. “We are doing this for the residents. Just because you don’t see a reaction doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. We want to use a scientifically proven mechanism to help residents suffering from memory loss have more joy in their lives.”
How to Support Music & MemorySM at CMSS
Funds to help support our Music & MemorySM initiative will be raised during our Spring Benefit Brunch, taking place on April 30, 2016. Along with other Engagement of the Arts programming, money raised will go toward certifying CMSS staff and volunteers to provide this type of music therapy and purchasing the technology necessary to implement this program.
Once implemented, we believe this program will have a positive impact on CMSS residents’ quality of life.