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Music and Memory: How Towsley Village is Using Music to Improve Memory

“I can’t carry a tune, but I love music,” says Chelsea Retirement Community (CRC) volunteer Chris Tramontin. For the last two years, Chris has shared her love of music with residents at CRC’s Towsley Village Memory Care Center through the Music and Memory program. Chris knows exactly how much this program means for residents with dementia – one of them was her mother, Leila “Skip” Baker.

Chris first learned about the Music and Memory program at a Towsley Village Support Group meeting where they watched Alive Inside (musicandmemory.org). This video depicts the incredible impact of music – in this case, Cab Calloway – on Henry, an elderly man with dementia. “My mother always loved music and had the radio on 24/7 before her disease,” says Chris. “I thought it would be a great therapy to try with my mother.”

A friend gave Chris an iPod which she loaded with her mother’s favorites from the past, including her mother’s beloved Frank Sinatra. Chris says they found that, by listening to the music, her mother “would immediately relax, smile, and enjoy the music.” She adds, “Music and Memory gave back to my mother some of what she lost with her dementia.”

Though her mother passed away in 2015, Chris continues to be part of a team of Music and Memory volunteers at Towsley Village. Together, they have created a database of 2,500 songs in their music library, including the Top 10 songs of the Top 10 artists from 1920 to 1970! Spiritual and patriotic music, favorite folk tunes, and classical music are also included. Volunteers interview the residents when possible, as well as their family members, to determine their musical favorites, then create a playlist of about 100 songs for each individual. Each playlist contains about six hours of music. Volunteers put music from iTunes onto an iPod for each resident, using headphones for the resident to listen to the music. “We make it as easy as possible for resident families and our staff caregivers to use the technology with their loved one.”

Chris says they can always use more volunteers at Towsley Village to help with Music and Memory. “We strive to have one volunteer per day per neighborhood at Towsley.”

“Music, poetry and prayer are ‘right-side of brain’ activities,” said Positive Approach™ founder and dementia care expert Teepa Snow at a recent training event in Chelsea, sponsored by United Methodist Retirement Communities. “It’s all about rhythm. Music is one of the very last things to die in the brain.”

Music and Memory executive director Dan Cohen agrees. “Even if people have dementia…music helps individuals maintain their sense of identity, bring back their memories, and feel more alive.”

To learn more about the Music and Memory program, opportunities to volunteer, and how you can utilize the program with your loved one, CRC is hosting a Music and Memory Open House on August 8 at 6:30pm at Towsley Village. For more information, or to RSVP, please contact Nicole Adams at 734-433-1000 ext. 6550 or nadams@umrc.com.