A meaningful internship. That’s the goal for many college students who want to learn, grow and get into a good graduate program or land a great first job.
For many managers, it’s equally important to identify a great project for interns that will free up staff time and enhance the work of an organization.
At Jewish Home Lifecare in Greater New York, the Vermont Veterans Home in Bennington and the Mayo Clinic Health System skilled nursing facilities in Wisconsin, interns have taken the lead in establishing robust iPod-based personalized music programs. Their work has covered the gamut—from finding sponsors, drafting policies and conducting staff training programs to creating music libraries, developing personalized playlists and teaching residents how to use their iPod shuffles.
The result: residents and staff reap the benefits of personalized music—calmer, happier residents; more up-beat social atmosphere; reduced reliance on anti-psychotics—and interns gain a deeper knowledge of dementia and Alzhiemer’s, a sense of real accomplishment in bettering residents’ lives and the work of the care facility and, often, a commitment to carrying the power of music into their future careers.
Building a Solid Foundation for Personalized Music
“We’re very committed to developing our workforce,” says Dierdre Downs, Corporate Director of Social Work Initiatives for Jewish Home Lifecare. “This is a very positive way to expose people to issues associated with dementia. The students all loved it.”
With 300- to 800-bed facilities in Westchester, Manhattan and the Bronx, Jewish Home Lifecare has a well-established internship program that draws on New York City’s leading graduate schools of social work. Piloting the Music & Memory program over the past year, interns focused on residents in dementia units.
They researched residents’ musical preferences, developed an extensive music library and personalized playlists, and taught staff and residents how to use the iPods. They also wrote instructions for the next round of interns who will pick up the maintenance and expansion of the program, with support from volunteers.
Downs says she hopes to broaden the iPod program to enhance the lives of more residents. Currently, about 60 iPods are in use. “We plan to do this slowly and thoughtfully,” she says.
Inspiring Future Careers in Memory Care
“Interns have been extremely important in our Music & Memory program,” says Christina Cosgrove, Director of Social Services and Admissions Coordinator for the Vermont Veteran’s Home (VVH) in Bennington. One of the first care facilities to participate in Music & Memory’s certification program, VVH launched iPod-based personalized music two years ago, with the help of two enthusiastic graduate students from the MSW program at nearby SUNY-Albany.
The interns joined in Music & Memory’s webinar training, then concentrated on setting up the program at the 177-bed facility. Focusing on the Freedom Village dementia unit, they worked with family members to identify residents’ musical favorites, set up the music library and personalized playlists, taught residents and staff to use iPods and developed a security system for iPod storage. About 50 iPods are in use across two units.
“Seeing the joy that music brought to the residents through their smiles, singing, or dancing was really inspiring,” says former intern Amanda Baker. “It showed how much a person’s quality of life can be improved with something so simple as music.”
“They had a very rich experience,” says Cosgrove. “When the Henry video went viral, they were at the heart of the program.” One intern was so inspired that she wrote all of her graduate school papers about Music & Memory and dementia, and hopes to pursue this work in her professional career. This year’s interns are developing the program further, working with residents, ensuring accountability and collecting data for iPod usage.
Gaining Staff Buy-in and Ownership
At the Mayo Clinic Health System’s three Wisconsin skilled nursing facilities that use the program—in Bloomer, Barron and Osseo—interns have played an even bigger role, helping to fundraise, develop policies, train staff and hand off the program at the end of their internships.
One of three undergraduate interns in the Health Care Administration program of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, Hannah Johnson was inspired by seeing the Henry video at a provider conference. “I knew that our residents in the small community in Bloomer would benefit from personalized music, as many had dementia, depression and other cognitive disabilities,” she says.
Johnson proposed the concept to senior leadership with a goal of fundraising to cover start-up costs. She got approval to roll out the program to all three Mayo Clinic Health System skilled nursing facilities and worked with public affairs and business development administrators to find a local sponsor. “We were fortunate that the sponsor paid for all costs and the costs for future maintenance,” she says.
Management was all for the project, says Angela Bulger, Nursing Home Administrator in Osseo and Assistant Administrator of Senior Services. Bulger says the interns worked closely with activities directors at each of the three sites, who “bought in right from the start.” This spring, each small facility introduced 15 iPods for 20 to 30 residents; the iPods are loaded with two personalized playlists and shared by a pair of residents, who each have their own headsets for listening.
Johnson worked closely with activities staff to research residents’ music preferences, so staff would have ownership of the program. Music libraries were loaded onto the activity directors’ computers. She created a Power Point training module, presented at a monthly staff meeting, on how to use and care for the iPods. The intern team also developed policies and procedural guidelines and an inventory log, based on resources from Music & Memory. In addition, Bulger says they presented the program to family and resident counsels, to familiarize them with the program and gain family support for identifying musical favorites.
Time Well Invested in Nursing Home Culture Change
“They did a lot of sit-down education with staff,” says Bulger. “There’s a significant time commitment up-front in establishing this program. While the educational process might seem to take away from care, the time is so minimal once you see the benefits for the residents. It’s been very easy for staff to take over when you see the difference it makes in residents’ lives.”
Johnson’s hard work was recognized by her academic peers with the Most Innovative Health Care Administration Student Project award at her undergraduate program’s annual spring banquet. This summer she is interning with New Perspective Senior Living in Minneapolis, before beginning her Health Care Administration master’s program at the University of Minnesota. Her goal, as the company joins the Music & Memory team, is to implement personalized music at New Perspective’s 12 communities specializing in assisted living and memory care.
Downs, Cosgrove and Bulger agree that Music & Memory provides an outstanding internship experience with extensive benefits for staff and residents alike. Key to the program’s success, says Bulger, is to give the students plenty of responsibility.
“Be willing to allow your interns to explore and ask questions,” she says. “Give them a lot of autonomy. Our interns took great pride and owned the project.”
Want to bring personalized music to residents in your care facility? Please download Music & Memory’s free guide, Making the Case for Personalized Music: A Guide for Elder Care Professionals.
Founded in 2010, Music & Memory is a non-profit organization that brings personalized music into the lives of the elderly or infirm through digital music technology, vastly improving quality of life.