Musical therapy

“In memory everything seems to happen to music,” according to the late American playwright Tennessee Williams.

He’s apparently right as some area nursing homes and rehab centers are finding out by harnessing the power of music to help residents experiencing dementia and other mental and physical issues.

Developed out of a national effort by the same name, the Music and Memory program uses the researched healing power of personalized music playlists to help patients recover memories, stimulate recognition, and enhance their quality of life.

“We currently have at least two residents who are participating in the Music and Memory program, and we’re really seeing some good results,” said Sherry Elder, social worker at Harmar Place Rehabilitation and Extended Care Center in Marietta.

One of those residents is 86-year-old Georgia Beitz from Williamstown whose mental state seemed to be impacting her appetite.

“She would not eat,” Elder said. “But we recently began putting headphones on her ears and playing her favorite music during lunch and dinner-now she’s eating much better and focusing on her meals.”

Elder said Beitz’ family was skeptical of using the music therapy program at first.

“I told them to go ahead and try it, and it worked-it kind of surprised me,” said Georgia’s son, John Beitz. “The music helps her to concentrate. She’s distracted by whatever is going on around her, and this helps her focus on her meals.”

He said his mother’s favorite music includes Danny Davis and the Nashville Brass, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, and some big band numbers which have been placed on her iPod device.

John said Georgia will have been at Harmar Place for two years come November, and spent four years at the Hannah’s House facility on Harmar Hill prior to that.

“We’ve received a diagnosis of dementia, but she’s also a patient with Marietta Hospice who works with her at Harmar Place,” he added.

Harmar Place is one of eight nursing and rehab facilities that are the first in Ohio to take part in the Music and Memory program, recently introduced through the local Area Agency on Aging 8, according to Kim Flanigan, Ombudsman Program director for the agency headquartered on Pike Street in Marietta.

“We couldn’t think of a better way to personalize care that to provide residents with the music they know and love,” she said. “As we learned more about the national Music and Memory program, we just knew that we needed to have it in our area. This program is all about bringing joy into the lives of people suffering from a wide range of cognitive and physical impairments.”

Stephanie Cleland, administrator for the Arbors at Marietta, another nursing facility participating in the program, said using music to stimulate those with dementia and similar ailments is a great idea.

“We’re just getting started here, and our goal right now is to obtain enough iPods and iTunes cards to get our program underway,” she said. “We have 150 residents here, but wouldn’t need that many devices-we’ll start small, focusing on residents with memory impairments or other brain deficiencies they may have suffered as the result of an injury.”

Cleland said many of those residents become isolated from others due to their mental state which may impair the patient’s ability to communicate.

“We often struggle to connect with these people,” she said. “And I think this program will be a great thing for our residents.”

Charlene McGrath, director of nursing at Harmar Place, agreed.

“Research has shown that music can unlock memories for dementia and Alzheimer’s patients-especially if you can find their personal favorite types of music,” she said. “We’re also hoping to provide this for residents who are experiencing depression.”

McGrath said family members are contacted to find out what kind of music a resident likes best, then a playlist of their favorites is developed and the music purchased with an iTunes card. The customized music is then downloaded to an iPod that enables the resident to listen to his or her own personal genre of music at any time.

Flanigan said the eight regional facilities participating in the program will require some community support to make Music and Memory happen by donating new or used iPods or purchasing iTunes cards for their area nursing or rehab centers.

In addition to Harmar Place and Arbors of Marietta, the other facilities include Muskingum Valley Nursing and Rehabilitation in Beverly; Woodsfield Nursing and Rehabilitation Center at Woodsfield; Arcadia Acres Nursing Home in Logan; Genesis Health Care of New Lexington; Hickory Creek Nursing Center in Athens; and Rocksprings Rehabilitation Center in Pomeroy.

The Area Agency on Aging 8 serves Washington and seven other counties, including Athens, Hocking, Meigs, Monroe, Morgan, Noble, and Perry counties.