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Harmonizing memory through music

A new documentary, Alive Inside, has sparked an innovative therapy approach with seniors who have Alzheimer’s and memory issues. The documentary explores the positive effects of music and the awakening seniors have when they listen to music from their earlier years. Seniors come alive with personality and energy as the music flowed through the headphones of the MP3 player. Baptist Retirement Community in San Angelo has implemented a music therapy program and is witnessing the same results in residents. Music resonates with seasons of our lives, experiences and moments in time and people who are special to us. When we hear certain songs or artists, the music helps us reminisce. Music activates our senses and our emotions, making music an excellent tool for therapy. “I attended a health care conference earlier this year and was inspired by a guest speaker who touched on the importance of music as a form of therapy,” said Bridget Hinrichs, life enrichment coordinator for Sagecrest Alzheimer's Care Center at Baptist Retirement Community. “We all need music in our lives. It makes the residents more engaged, helps them feel good, is uplifting and can change their whole demeanor. I see their eyes light up and their bodies start moving when I play a song they know and love. Some residents actually get up and dance. We have also seen residents who normally don’t talk start singing or moving their bodies to the beat too. The results have been amazing.” Caitlin Hayes, a music therapist, recently started working with residents at Sagecrest in groups of 10 to 12. She plays instruments such as the guitar, ukulele and piano to engage residents. Residents are given drums and tambourines to play along with her. Hayes sings and plays songs from a variety of genres and time periods. She logs their progress and has already started to notice impressive results. “Music therapy helps to create a better quality of life for seniors by improving cognitive, social and spiritual functions,” Hayes said. “I can address different needs with music. What I have found so far is that it has helped to spur conversation. I am getting more engaged responses when I ask questions, and communication between the residents and their peers is improving. Music therapy is a great tool for a variety of people. What I’m doing is more than just entertaining them; I am helping them improve and maintain their mental and physical health.” In addition to having a music therapist work with residents, Baptist Retirement Community schedules free performances with volunteers from the San Angelo Symphony. Hinrichs also uses MP3 players and small CD players for a personalized music therapy experience. She speaks with residents to find out what music they like. If they cannot talk, she asks their families. The senior living community is always accepting donations of used and new music players and new headphones, so they can reach more people with music. “I visit my friend Velma Sager, a resident of Sagecrest, regularly, and I can tell the music therapy has helped her tremendously,” resident Shirley Roach said. “Velma plays the piano and organ, and has a collection of music that she brought with her when she moved into Sagecrest. She appreciates a variety of genres, and when she hears music it makes her feel more at peace. She is eager to listen to musicians when they come to play, and she invites me out for the performances. The whole music program seems to brighten her day.” “When Bridget came back from training in San Marcos, we could see the inspiration moving through her as she developed ideas for the music therapy program,” said Quinda Feil-Duncan, executive director of Baptist Retirement Community. “It has been exciting watching her develop the new additions to the program and hearing of the residents’ successes. Bridget’s energy and zeal is contagious. It is moving to see our team members go above and beyond to creatively meet the needs of the residents.”

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