Music & Memory, a nonprofit organization, brings a personalized music program to individuals experiencing memory loss. At JF&CS, we set up highly personalized music playlists on iPods for our clients who are experiencing symptoms due to mental or physical illness, including memory loss, agitation, pain, or anxiety. Specific artists and songs are the key to Music & Memory’s success because musical favorites tap deep memories that can restore a sense of peace and comfort, bring individuals back to life, and help people feel like themselves again.

On a beautiful spring afternoon, five of the Music & Memory participants who were diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease gathered along with their “listening partners” (who happen to be their spouses) to share their playlists with each other. Each one brought their iPod shuffle, which we attached to a portable speaker for all to hear. The first song played was Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Who’ll Stop the Rain.” The song began with the lyrics, “Long as I remember…” and someone interjected with, “That’s not very long with this group.” The group broke into laughter and eased into the day.

(Courtesy photo)
(Courtesy photo)

The next song played was the Beatles’ “With a Little Help From My Friends” and the tone was set! Everyone relaxed into the atmosphere of love, friendship, and music, where they could be themselves. As each person shared their playlist with the group, we got a glimpse into their soul. The group discussed memories and thoughts attached to each of the songs and I was amazed at the level of meaning attached to these very personal playlists. This structured gathering allowed everyone a unique and easy way to offer a part of themselves, when typical communication and socialization can often be challenging. There was a lot of laughter, a few tears, much affection, some incredible whistling, feet tapping in unison, dancing, and lots of singing!

I was struck by the level of comfort present in the room and the feelings of sheer joy as everyone lost themselves in the music. It was clear to me on this beautiful day that even though Alzheimer’s can steal your memories, it clearly cannot rob people of their ability to feel and express love, friendship, and the joy of music.

Robin Krawczyk, LICSW, is the community education and training specialist for services for older adults.

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