New program hopes music spurs memory for Alzheimer's patients - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

New program hopes music spurs memory for Alzheimer's patients

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MADISON (WKOW) -- A new state health initiative called Music and Memory is using iPods to help patients with Alzheimer's recall memories and improve their overall health.

"We're pulling from their past – music that made them feel happy or made them joyful and triggers some good memories," St. Mary's Care Center's resident care coordinator Heather Stapelmann said.

Part of the national Music and Memory program, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services has provided 100 nursing homes each with 15 iPods for their residents with Alzheimer's or dementia. Nursing home staffers are to work with residents and family members to create playlists personal to each resident.

"The music has a connection to the emotion system. It's sort of a back door to the mind, and that's why people come alive. They feel good, start talking. Sometimes it's a shock to the staff that's been around them for months and years when someone was saying nothing," Music and Memory founder Dan Cohen said.

Keith and Dorothy Fredrickson have dementia and Alzheimer's, respectively. They've been married for nearly 60 years, and will receive an iPod shuffle with a splitter so they can listen to music together.  

"We always liked country music," Dorothy said, with Keith specifying, "George Jones, yup!"

When asked what the first song they danced to at their wedding was, neither can recall. Though they do remember dancing in a place they call Rainbow Gardens in Spring Green.

"I'm hoping that with a little bit of research, I can find out what they played at that Rainbow Garden," director of activities Carmela Mulroe said.

Mulroe received the iPods at the end of January, so it's too early to tell what the effects of Music and Memory will be in Wisconsin. However, there have been promising results in other states.

Some nursing homes in New York have reduced their use of anti-psychotic drugs from 38 percent of people with Alzheimer's to 13 percent, according to Cohen, who also says music has helped patient's perception of pain by about 20 percent.

Improved overall health will help nursing home workers, who say daily tasks occupy the majority of their time with patients

"There are only so many hours in the day and so many people to administer to the patients. Even when we're engaged with someone else, we can still be reaching them through music," Stapelmann said.

Cohen says it's the program is failsafe. "The downside would be that it doesn't work, but the upside would be a transformative quality of life for someone with Alzheimer's," he said, adding that patients in the program have felt calmer when listening to music that speaks to them. On the flip side, music can also encourage them to move more, thereby helping to improve their motor function.  

"We want them to feel hopeful, energized, and then also peace and calm. Music is one of the most medicinal things that we can use," Mulroe said.

Mulroe says that she and her staff are currently building playlists for patients such as the Fredricksons. And when they're ready, "I hope that for that moment in time, they're together and all of a sudden they're back in Rainbow Gardens, they're 20, and they're so love. It'll never go away. Even though our bodies fail us, that part of our spirit never dies."

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