Music & Memory project coming to Farmington campus

A senior listening to music through headphones.“Mary” has been a huge Conway Twitty fan her whole life. She always liked to say that whenever he sang “Hello, Darling” in concert, he was singing it just to her.

But for the last few years, Mary hasn’t said a word. She has Alzheimer’s and lives in the memory care neighborhood at Farmington Presbyterian Manor. But earlier this year, Mary received an iPod loaded with songs by Twitty and Elvis Presley – her other favorite – through the Music & Memory Program. Ever since then, Activity Director Carol Winch said Mary will perk up and look around. And she even returned a “good morning” greeting.

“I want to believe it’s because of the music,” Winch said. “We give it to her every day, especially at meals. It makes her more alert and willing to eat.”

Music & Memory is a non-profit organization that promotes the use of digital music players with individualized playlists to improve the quality of life for elders. The project and its founder, Dan Cohen, are the subject of the documentary film “Alive Inside.” Aging can erase a person’s identity, Cohen says in the film, but music can help restore that sense of self (watch it online at www.aliveinside.us).

Now, employees at several Presbyterian Manors communities are becoming certified in the Music & Memory program, including Winch. The Missouri Coalition Celebrating Care Continuum Change, or MC5, granted $24,000 this year to provide the Music & Memory Certification Program at no cost to 40 Missouri care provider organizations. Rolla Presbyterian Manor was a grant recipient, and as a result, employees at all PMMA campuses in Kansas and Missouri are receiving the training at a reduced rate.

Winch’s training including guidance on talking with residents, their friends, and family members to create personalized playlists. Winch learned from Mary’s daughter that music was a big part of her life. “She’d never seen her mom cooking when she wasn’t dancing around and singing,” Winch said.

Another memory care resident has an iPod filled with country music. Mealtimes were his most difficult time, Winch said. “We put it on at his lunchtime. I think it was the noise that bothered him,” she said. “Now he’s calming down. It’s changed his whole behavior.”

Winch and her staff are talking with other residents now to keep notes of their favorite music, so they can build playlists for them in the future.

Farmington Presbyterian Manor received just a handful of music players to start the program. Winch is seeking donations of more devices, plus iTunes gift cards to purchase songs online and load them onto the players. That’s the time-consuming part, so Winch would welcome volunteers to help with that task.

To donate or volunteer, please contact Carol Winch at cwinch@pmma.org or 573-747-4455, ext. 2113.

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