Music & Memory spark happy memories for people with dementia Print E-mail
Around the Diocese
Written by Kevin Wondrash, Catholic Herald Staff   
Thursday, Jan. 12, 2017 -- 12:00 AM
music memory
Music & Memory participant Dolores Robertson enjoys music on an iPod. (Catholic Herald photo/Kevin Wondrash)

MADISON -- Whether in the car, at work, at home, on a workout, or in church, music plays a huge role in every day life.

The tones, sounds, melodies, and lyrics people hear and enjoy often stay with them as they get older.

A recently developed program at the Catholic Charities Adult Day Center (ADC) in Madison helps participants get through parts of their days with the help of music.

The program is called Music & Memory.

It aims to bring personalized music into the lives of the elderly or infirm through digital music technology, vastly improving their quality of life.

It is geared toward helping people with dementia, such as Alzheimer’s or frontal-temporal dementia.

Certified facility

The ADC is a certified Music & Memory facility.

While most of the participants are elderly, anyone who uses the services of the center -- and suffers from dementia -- could take advantage of the program.

ADC staff took part in a training webinar after becoming aware of Music & Memory.

“We download music for the folks, specifically for them, and then when we need it during the day, we can use it for them,” said Lead Therapeutic Specialist Terri Ohmen.

“During the day, especially with the dementia participants, sometimes they escalate, they get anxious, waiting for their rides home . . . and when we see that, we can get out their personalized iPod, and we can go up to them and ask them if they would like to listen to some music,” said Ohmen.

Some iPod times are also held after lunchtime when participants need to wind down in the afternoon.

Sparking ‘happy memories’

The ADC sends a letter home to families to get ideas what music the participant may like. Those songs are then downloaded into an iPod.

“It helps spark happy memories,” said Recreational Specialist Kaitlin Erdmann. “Memories that involve their children or family -- a lot of our individuals have nursery rhymes on there and you can just see them light up. They get a smile on their face. It probably sparks a memory that they used to sing that song to their children when they were little.”

Participant Lorraine Boden likes the oldies and sang along when the Everly Brothers hit “Wake Up, Little Suzie” came on her iPod.

Participant Delores Robertson -- a recent winner of the Catholic Charities President’s Award recognizing her success as a Catholic Charities client -- likes to listen to Motown songs on her iPod. She was seen moving and snapping her fingers to the music with her headphones on.

“Some of our individuals don’t like active sports,” said Erdmann. “It just might be too loud and over stimulating, so then we’ll remove them from the group and place them in a quiet area and put on the Music & Memory program and they love it.”

Benefits of the program

Some of the benefits are seen immediately.

“One of our individuals, who uses the Music & Memory, typically requires a lot of verbal cueing and hand over hand assistance while doing a coloring page,” said Erdmann.

“I recently put on the Music & Memory while doing this coloring page and she required absolutely no cueing, no hand over hand, she completed the activity and she loved it, she felt she succeeded.”

“Not only is the Music & Memory program successful for us, who work in activities, it’s also successful for the CNAs and nurses as well,” Erdmann added.

She also added, “If we’re leading an activity in a group setting, and one person is listening to the Music & Memory on their iPod, it might trigger other people in the group to start singing that same song because the person who’s listening is singing out loud, so it kind of gets a whole group sing-along going on.”

“I love seeing the smiles and just their face light up. They absolutely love it,” she said. “They really do love music and this program has been a huge success.”

For Ohmen, her joy is “seeing them happy because as the disease goes on with the dementia or Alzheimer’s, you see them not being happy anymore and it’s a sad thing and with this music, it’s amazing to have this program here.”

About the Adult Day Center

The Catholic Charities Adult Day Center is now at its new location -- 5401 Fen Oak Dr. in Madison. It supports adults 18 years and older of all faiths in maintaining independence while living in their own homes and communities. The center provides an affordable alternative to in-home care.

The center is open Monday to Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Clients may attend individual days or every day. Local transportation options are available.

The center provides individualized care for medical conditions. LPN, CNAs, and a recreation specialist are on staff. A variety of engaging daily activities are offered in a safe, social environment.

Most of the iPods in the Music & Memory program were donated, but the center is always willing to accept more, especially from families of the participants.

For more information on Music & Memory at the Adult Day Center, go to or call 608-663-7117.

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