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Music and Memory Program Brings Joy and Hope to Those with Dementia and their Caregivers

Bob Russell and his wife, Ann, have been married for 58 years. But most days she doesn’t know his name. Diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, Ann moved to UMRC’s Towsley Village Memory Care Center in 2015. Bob says it was “a major lifestyle adjustment” for both of them. “The first year was hard.”

Ann is in a wheelchair, has diminished ability to communicate, and gets easily agitated. But then Bob and Towsley Village caregiver Christina Miskowski discovered the power of music to brighten Ann’s mood. “It was like a light bulb went on,” says Bob. Christina, Ann’s caregiver since she moved in, began playing country music on the radio for Ann in the mornings as she helped Ann get ready, which helped to calm her. Through the Music and Memory program, Ann received an iPod Shuffle that plays music she likes, including “You are my Sunshine,” sung by Gene Autry which is her favorite. Several renditions of this song are included on her specially tailored iPod playlist, created by CRC’s Music and Memory volunteers, so Ann hears it frequently. Recently, Bob also got an Amazon Echo for his wife which is audio-activated and doesn’t require recharging like the iPod.

Christina says that music makes Ann happier and gives her a way to communicate. “When it’s a song Ann likes, she sings along,” says Christina. “If there is a rhythm, Ann can sing to me what she needs.”

Bob usually doesn’t know what Ann is thinking. But sometimes, when he’s holding her hand and they listen to music together, as the song fades away, she’ll say, “Oh, Bob! Do you remember that one?” And, in that moment, says Bob, two things happen: “she remembers the song, and she remembers me.”

November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month. For more information about Towsley Village and the Music and Memory program, contact Deborah Stone, Assisted Living Administrator, at 734-433-1000 ext. 6551 or by e-mail at dstone@umrc.com.