Music & Memory is an organization that celebrates little moments. A loving smile, a flash of recognition, the squeeze of a hand, the twinkle of an eye, a brief sing-along… these things mean something to us. We are always grateful for such gentle moments of connection, and particularly grateful for the ever-growing understanding that music is the key, the gift that unlocks those remarkable little moments. For ten years now, since January 2010, Music & Memory has been inspiring those moments. On our anniversary, we’re proud that our early commitment to bringing personalized music to people with Alzheimer’s or dementia has become a decade of profound little moments, so important to so many people.
During this time, we spread Music & Memory across all 50 states and internationally, inspired scientific research studies that validated our protocols, became the subject of an award-winning documentary, and improved quality of life for about 100,000 people, not to mention their families, caregivers, and staff members in the 5,000+ nursing home and other facilities we serve.
So many people contributed to the work of Music & Memory during that incredible decade, and so many people became aware of the power of music through their own experiences with clients or loved ones that, as we thought about the story of the past decade of Music & Memory, we realized it was actually the stories of caregivers, family members, and staff that defined those years. And we wanted to listen to those stories, to hear the thoughts, observations, research conclusions, and personal testimonies from the Music & Memory community. Throughout this year, we’ll post your contributions on social media and our website under the series title Music & Memory: A Decade of Listening. At the end of the year, we’ll find a way to publish a summary document.
We’re hoping we can capture the essence of the power of music in your Music & Memory lives and understand more about the ways it inspires memories and precious connections. If you’d like to tell your story, or show it visually, or present it poetically or artistically, let us know by communicating with Justin Russo at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We’ll start the year off with a dialogue with colleagues Teresa Haatvedt, South Dakota Foundation for Medical Care; Lori Hintz, South Dakota Foundation for Medical Care and Great Plains Quality Innovation Network; and Cheri Fast, South Dakota Foundation for Medical Care. Teresa was an early and passionate advocate for Music & Memory and is moving on to new endeavors, Cheri is taking on an expanded role.
Q: Teresa and Lori, you and South Dakota had facilities that were early adopters, how did you discover Music & Memory?
Lori: As a lead for our South Dakota Dementia Coalition/ National Partnership to Improve Dementia Care, we wanted to find successful nonpharmacological approaches in providing dementia care and reduce unnecessary antipsychotics. Individualized music was an approach that was frequently mentioned and the national Music & Memory program was most often the preferred program.
Teresa: The Early Adopters in SD took it upon themselves to become nationally certified with the Music and Memory organization prior to our SD Phase 1 initiative. We supported them with a financial stipend to use toward their music program.
Q: Did you have an active and personal connection to music in your life before M&M? What songs inspired your memories?
Lori: I have to admit… I’m a disco and Motown girl at heart! These songs make me want to dance! I don’t think my family would automatically select these music genre’s as what stirs my soul.
Teresa: I grew up listening to music and continue to have it playing in the background throughout my workday. Our family loves to dance so it was always a part of my life. I have shared with others that I will be the little ole lady dancing down the LTC hallway with my headphones on and listening to my favorite oldies.Cheri- I find music to be a great motivator. Depending on my mood, is what I listen to. For me, I find praise and worship songs give me a sense of purpose and direction in my life, but I do like some Cher and Steven Tyler music to get my mood uplifted! You will often find me walking or should I say dancing, with my headphones on the gravel roads of rural South Dakota!Q: How was the decision made to implement it? What did you have to do to instill M&M in the care planning of 66 SD homes?
Lori: Our SD Dementia Coalition formed a subgroup to explore ways to fund a statewide Music and Memory program for every nursing home in South Dakota and found that there were available state CMP funds available specifically for nursing homes. Our first 24-month proposal (Phase 1) was funded in 2018 and we were able to assist 57 facilities to become nationally certified. In addition, we worked with the 9 nursing homes that were “early M&M adopters” who had already been nationally certified. We are currently awaiting notification if our Phase 2 South Dakota Music and Memory will be funded. If so, we anticipate all 104 South Dakota nursing homes will be certified as a National Music and Memory center.
Q: What notable success would you point to? Lori, is it true that a relative of yours stood up and started singing “You Are My Sunshine” at one of the MM certified facilities. What prompted that?
Lori: Here’s the story about Lorna, mother of twelve children and my next door neighbor for most of my childhood, she was like a second mom to me. Lorna was afflicted with Alzheimer’s and eventually moved to a nursing home. I was invited to a family reunion where all of Lorna’s children and their children were gathering. Lorna was in the later stages of Alzheimer’s. She was speaking very little, did not feed herself and essentially withdrawing. Her family brought her to where the family reunion was taking place (outside of the nursing home). She entered the community hall in a wheelchair, pushed by her daughter. Her head was down and did not make any eye contact. I was sad to see this lady who I knew as vibrant, funny, hard-working and had the best cookies ever unable to respond to this fun filled family event. This large family then lined up for a family picture with Lorna positioned front and center in her wheelchair, again her head down. The family began singing “You are my Sunshine” and shortly after singing began, Lorna looked up, looked around, smiled, her eyes twinkled and joined in song. It brought tears to all our eyes and joy that for a brief time Lorna was engaged and connecting. As I recall, once the singing concluded and the food was served, Lorna was able to feed herself a few bites of cake. It was a day, I will never forget. A few years later, I heard about the national M&M program, I immediately connected the power of music to what I had witnessed with my dear neighbor, Lorna.
Teresa: We have heard a variety of areas that the music has positively impacted residents but the majority of our long-term care centers have seen a decrease in anxiety and nervousness and has improved the overall quality of life. Another win is we have heard the increase connection with their family members.
Q: What has been the biggest surprise?
Lori: I knew music has a profound effect on one’s mood, but I was surprised to hear of stories of how someone’s swallowing improved after listening to music.
Teresa: I have always realized that music brings us together as a society but it is enlightening to see how each residents unique song list has a variety of ways it positively impacts each individual person.
Q: Personally, how has the M&M program affected you and the community where you live?
Teresa: I have always enjoyed a variety of music. Right before I became involved with the national Music and Memory organization, my step-mother was diagnosed with early dementia. At that moment, this work took on a very personal meaning to me. I have been able to see how music has improved the quality of life for residents and will assist my step-mother in developing her own personal music list to assist her as the disease progresses. I want to see our state centers succeed and sustain this wonderful program to improve the quality of life for so many.
Q: How has MM evolved over the years you’ve been doing it?
Lori: Music access and technology changes are evolving such as online music streaming, wireless speakers and individualized music devices.
Q: Cheri, as you assume the active leadership of M&M in South Dakota, what’s your vision of the program going forward?
Cheri: Music connects us all and is said to be the universal language of mankind. I believe that to be true. Music can have such a profound effect on us no matter what we are experiencing. We can listen to music to help us through the happiest and most difficult times of our lives and because of technology, we can listen to music most anywhere. There are so many types of music that we should never lack for something to listen to. As I take on the leadership role of M & M in SD, my vision is first and foremost to get all our long-term care centers engaged and certified with Music and Memory and to make this a priority when caring for residents and loved ones. Music can engage someone that is feeling down or anxious and it can soothe pain and provide comfort. I would like to see the program advance to other areas such as the “At Home” program and being utilized in home care and hospice programs across our state.
Q: Teresa, leave us with an idea, a wish, or a song for the future of M&M in South Dakota.
Teresa: My long term wish for SD Music and Memory is for our long-term care centers to sustain the program they have implemented for their residents. In addition, I would love to see the “At Home” program expand within my community and throughout SD. So many of dedicated and loving families are caring for their loved on at home and this program would allow some respite time for the caregiver. I believe the school curriculum would be beneficial to our students to increase awareness and prevalence of this disease.
Design credit: Letitia Rogers