To read last week’s post on the topic, please click here: “The quickening art” – music and dementia. In “The quickening art” we began to look at some of the science that underlies our reactions to music.
In the above segment, Melissa Block interviews Dan Cohen, the social worker featured in the upcoming film Alive Inside, and discusses how the Music & Memory project came about. Music & Memory ran the program depicted in a widely-seen clip from Alive Inside that recently went viral on YouTube: over the past week and a half it’s been viewed more than 5 million times. The clip is included towards the bottom of this post.
One of my favorite parts of the NPR interview was when Block asked Cohen a question I, too, had been wondering: don’t the headphones just further isolate people?
NPR’s Melissa Block:
Is there any concern about further isolating patients who may already be lost very much inside themselves?
We got funding for 200 iPods to try this out on a larger scale, this was in 2008 with 4 facilities around New York, and wanted to see how well we replicated this. What was the feedback from the professional staff and from the residents?
And what happened was the 33 professional staff across these facilities all come up with no instances of increased isolation, but a flood of stories of increased socialization.
People wanted to share their music with others: “Here, you gotta listen to this!” or “What was the name of that song?”
“Gee,” to the nonprofessional person sweeping the floor. “Hey, you’re about my age. Ya know, the Andrews Sisters: who was Poppa?”
So the music is great, but to me, perhaps even the bigger win is people having better and more relationships with those around them.
Basically, Cohen found that, by reconnecting individuals with their identities and passions, residents were more likely to communicate and better able to relate to one-another.
In another clip, we hear a resident singing. He was a musician and a performer earlier in his life and his voice is strong. Someone says, “I wish I had a voice like him!”
Cohen explains the connection that’s occurring:
That’s part of that joining in, and loving the fact that somebody who they spend a lot of time with during the days [...] is acting in a way maybe they haven’t seen before
Live music is present and is ideal. But the issue is: live music is episodic. So maybe once a week somebody comes in, or there could be activities as a group.
The beauty of the iPod is that this is total personalization that is just not possible in the current environment.
Dan Cohen also provides tips for trying this on your own. Please note that, although he says “elderly,” this can apply to anyone with dementia.
DAN COHEN’S TIPS ON MUSIC AND THE ELDERLY
Get the playlist right. Find out the person’s tastes and create a varied mix: no more than five to seven songs per artist. Have them weed out tracks that are so-so, so you end up with 100 or 200 songs that all resonate.
Keep it simple. Make sure the elder knows how to use the player, or that someone nearby can help. Use over-ear headphones rather than earbuds, which can fall out.
Be patient. It can take time to reach the music memory. If the person is responding, feel free to sing along. If someone doesn’t like the headphones, try a small speaker at first and incorporate the headphones gradually over time.
Keep it special. Don’t leave the player on all the time. Nursing homes are finding it works well during transitions: If someone is hesitant to take a bath or eat or get dressed, music may help move things along.
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