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Grant in Action: Music and Memory project brings peace and joy

Music and Memory

For many people, music is just background noise. But for some SIU patients with Alzheimer’s disease or other memory loss disorders, and their family members, music has become a godsend.

Involvement in this project has given Danny immense enjoyment and satisfaction and has given me time without repeated questions because he is calm and happy, which is my goal.

The Music and Memory project through SIU School of Medicine Center for Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders received $3,356 in grant funding from the Foundation in 2017 to buy 30 iPods and mp3 players along with accessories and music download credits.

So far, six people have received an iPod loaded with a personalized playlist. Maggie Mentel Schaver with SIU’s Neurosciences Institute said referrals for an iPod are coming in at a steady pace and the project is proving successful for those involved.

“We have heard many stories from family members about the personalized music being a tremendous support to both the family and the person with memory loss,” Schaver said. “When I was testing an iPod with one person, upon hearing the music she stood up and started to dance. After a song or two she was breathless and sat down but kept smiling and tapping her toes. People often will sing along, dance, keep a beat or just smile happily when listening to their music. Family care partners benefit by having a bit of time to themselves while their loved one is actively enjoying their music—and benefit from their loved one’s mood being elevated as well.”

Daniel and Margaret Millburg are a perfect example. Daniel has always loved music and Margaret was hopeful the Music and Memory project could help with his lack of concentration, mood swings, depression and pacing.

“Danny sings, hums and even wants to dance. Music helped with his issues, which in turn has kept a smile on my face because he is happy,” Margaret said.

Many times, it is Schaver who loads the requested music onto the iPods for the patients. That can mean as many as 300 songs “that truly resonate with the individual,” she said. While certain songs and artists have been popular with multiple patients, the type of music requested has been very diverse, including big band, country, jazz, classical, gospel, rock, show tunes and Spanish guitar.

Daniel chose mostly country music but found inspiration for other selections while traveling in Margaret’s vehicle.

“I have SiriusXM and he likes hearing songs from the 60s and 70s. We would write down songs and artists for his list. He likes the lighter side of the 60s music and music that is happy and even a little silly,” she said.

For Mark Monteyne, participating in the Music and Memory project was an easy decision. He was always listening—while driving, exercising, doing chores or other tasks. It also helps him relax. The iPod’s simplicity is a plus compared to the CD/cassette player he had been using.

“Mark has confidence in using it and enjoys the music. I can get away for a substantial period of time knowing Mark in entertained and content. I need the time for myself,” said Susan Monteyne, his wife.

The majority of Mark’s playlist includes classic rock from the 1970s but he also selected classic rock songs from the 1960s and 1980s and music by country artists like Garth Brooks and Alan Jackson.

“He probably chose that music because he's familiar with it, grew up with it,” Susan said. “He knows the words and it reminds him of happy times through his life.”

Susan has seen firsthand how the Music and Memory project has impacted her husband.

“It makes Mark happy. He's content. He's confident. He's proud of his song selection. He takes great care of the iPod,” Susan said. “Since he started this program and I have realized the importance of music to someone with memory loss, we have started going to karaoke. Neither of us is brave enough to sing yet, but he enjoys it. The music is familiar and the words are displayed so he can sing along.”

Margaret’s experience has been equally positive.

“Involvement in this project has given Danny immense enjoyment and satisfaction and has given me time without repeated questions because he is calm and happy, which is my goal,” she said.

For Schaver, the effect of the Music and Memory project on the Millburgs and Monteynes is what she was hoping for when submitting the grant in 2017.

“Thank you to everyone who has made this program possible. We at SIU are very appreciative of this opportunity to help people with Alzheimer’s disease and their family care partners,” she said. “For them, daily life is often very challenging. Support of programs like Music and Memory helps bring people a little peace and a little joy. I can’t think of a better gift for anyone.”

If you are interested in Music and Memory for someone with dementia, please contact Maggie Schaver at SIU: 217-545-7193 or