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Greenwich Witherell Helps Patients Connect To Memory With Music

Staff at Nathaniel Witherell in Greenwich help a patient listen to music.
Staff at Nathaniel Witherell in Greenwich help a patient listen to music. Photo Credit: Contributed

GREENWICH, Conn. -- Nathaniel Witherell, a short-term rehab and skilled nursing center in Greenwich, is working with Music and MemorySM, a nonprofit organization that brings personalized music into the lives of the elderly or infirm through digital music technology.

"The goal is to create and provide personalized playlists using iPods to enable those struggling with Alzheimer’s, dementia, and other cognitive and physical challenges, to reconnect with the world through music-triggered memories and emotions," said Lynn Mason, a board-certified music therapist at the Witherell .

Among the Witherell's first participants in the Music and Memory program is Cordella Shaw, 94, who recently listened to her iPod in one of the Witherell's newly remodeled porch areas and enthusiastically sang along with her beloved religious and gospel music.

"Mrs. Shaw was noticeably more alert and chatty for hours following listening to her music on the iPod. It was wonderful to see,'' said Jayne Kennelly, nurse manager at the Witherell.

Witherell’s Music and Memory pilot program is beginning with Shaw and four other residents who do not respond well in a group setting, as they often experience too much stimulation or confusion due to their dementia.

"Our target population is prone to social isolation, anxiety, and depression. The Music and Memory program can be another tool for reaching these residents and helping them to connect more to the world around them, organize their thinking, and function at their highest potential. On another level, it just brings pure joy," Mason said.

She says Witherell's Music and Memory program is dependent on a true "person-centered care" approach, with a resident's musical interest being gathered from staff, family, and friends, who become part of the team that develops a tailored, personalized playlist for each resident and helps him/her access the music.

"Playlists can include a lullaby their mother sang to them as a child, their wedding song, a favorite opera, gospel music, or folksongs, or we may search for songs that were popular during the resident's early years,” Mason said

In mid-January, 20 to 30 Witherell nursing, recreation, volunteer, and chaplaincy staff members received the training needed. The Witherell is now one of only four organizations in Fairfield County and a dozen in Connecticut to become a Music and Memory Certified Facility.

Favorite music or songs associated with important personal events can trigger remembrance of lyrics and the experience associated with the music. In addition, music has been shown to calm chaotic brain activity, enabling the listener to focus on the present and regain a connection to others.

Community members who would like to assist in the development of this project are welcome to donate gently used or new iPods (especially iPod shuffles), iTunes gift cards, chargers, and CDs (especially Pop, Broadway, R&B, Motown, jazz, religious/gospel, folk, and country music).

In coming months, the Witherell will be looking for volunteers who would like to help residents with the Music and Memory program. For more information, call Mason at 203-618-4217.

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