- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 29, 2015

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) - Before he puts on his headphones, Barnabia Jones, 94, sits still in his wheelchair and doesn’t have much to say when he’s asked a question. When the music begins to flow into his headset, however, the Healthwin resident becomes almost another person. He closes his eyes, begins tapping his feet, and starts moving around in his wheelchair, dancing. The music clearly provides him a sense of joy.

“He’s in his own world,” said Karen Martindale, Healthwin’s volunteer coordinator and head of its Music & Memory program.

After Martindale takes off Jones’ headphones, he is much more alert. He even explains what’s behind the transformation saying, “Oh yeah, I’m crazy about music!”

If you’ve ever heard a song and been reminded of a moment from the past or it’s lifted your spirits, it’s easy to comprehend the profound effect the Music & Memory program of Healthwin specialized care facility has on Jones and other residents.

Music & Memory is a New York-based nonprofit organization founded in 2010. It springs from extensive neuroscience research that shows that our brains are hard-wired to connect music with long-term memory - even brains with severe dementia. Individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s whose recollection of names, places and facts is compromised can trigger memories of lyrics and experiences connected to favorite tunes.

“Beloved music often calms chaotic brain activity and enables the listener to focus on the present moment and regain a connection to others,” says the organization’s website.

Because of this, Music & Memory trains nursing home staff and volunteers across the country to make personalized music playlists for elderly residents suffering from memory disorders.

The playlists are uploaded to iPods and other digital devices so the residents can listen, and all accounts indicate the music has had an overwhelmingly positive effect. Since the organization’s founding, personalized music programs have been implemented in hundreds of care facilities throughout the United States and Canada.

Healthwin is a South Bend not-for-profit organization that provides skilled short-term and long-term care for its 127 elderly residents. A grant from the St. Joseph County Community Foundation’s Milton Fund made it possible for Healthwin to implement a Music & Memory program. The foundation covered the $1,000 certification training costs. The community foundation has offered to do this for other local nursing facilities, as well.

The needs of seniors are a primary focus for the community foundation, Laura Moran Walton, director of communication and public relations, said. “Music & Memory is an incredibly inspiring program, and it fits well within the scope of our work.”

After attending a class at the Community Foundation to learn about the program, Martindale contacted JoAnn Burke, a professor in the department of social work and gerontology at Saint Mary’s College. Burke paired 14 junior social work majors with Healthwin residents, and the students worked with Healthwin staff and the residents’ families to create 14 personalized playlists. The students then began meeting the residents and providing them their music for about a half hour at a time. The program’s positive effect quickly became evident.

“We started watching the reactions of the residents when they heard their music,” Martindale said. “You could take an agitated person, and it would calm them down almost immediately. One gentleman in particular named Tim was just sitting there with no reaction and no emotion going on, and we put on some music and he started humming. We put on some Elvis music and he started moving his hands and arms. And when we put on Jerry Lewis he started pretending to play the keyboard to the music.”

Music & Memory does much more than re-ignite a sense of joy in the residents, said Martindale. “(Their music) brings back all those special songs and memories. Their wedding songs are one of the biggest things you’ll put on, and then (the residents) will start talking about their wedding. Songs they sang to their kids will sometimes be on the playlist, and when they listen to it, they’ll start talking about their children.”

Residents involved with the program are less likely to have behavioral issues and demonstrate fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety, according to Martindale.

With Saint Mary’s students on summer break, students from St. Joseph High School have been helping out. This fall, Healthwin plans to add 14 additional residents. Ultimately, the goal is for every resident in Healthwin to have his or her own iPod with a personalized playlist; additional funding, donations of iPod shuffles, and volunteers are necessary to make this possible.

Caitlin Gibbons, one of the Saint Mary’s College students who worked in the program, said, “I was so moved by the program that I decided to bring it to a retirement facility in my hometown of Cary, Ill.” Gibbons said, “Now I am able to be part of the program both at school and at home. It is so rewarding to see how positively music can affect the emotional and physical well-being of many of the residents.”

Martindale said she’s also enjoyed the spillover from the program’s impact on residents.

“The music makes them alive. It brings life to them. It gives them a purpose in life … I’ve been here 27 years and nothing has affected me like this. This has probably brought me more pleasure than anything I’ve ever done,” Martindale said.

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Source: The South Bend Tribune, https://bit.ly/1h3xYR4

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Information from: South Bend Tribune, https://www.southbendtribune.com

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