Music & Memory comes to Rolla Presbyterian Manor

shutterstock_310065128Program puts favorite songs in the palms of residents’ hands

When activities assistant Joy Parker was applying for a grant to bring the Music & Memory program to Rolla Presbyterian Manor, she asked staff members and residents how it might make a difference.

One health care resident answered: “Music is my life, and I miss that part.”

That perfectly sums up the purpose of Music & Memory. In the documentary film about the project, “Alive Inside,” founder Dan Cohen says aging can erase a person’s identity, but music can help restore it (watch the movie online at

The project promotes the use of digital music players with individualized playlists to improve the quality of life for elders. This year, 40 Missouri care provider organizations received the Music & Memory certification program at no cost, thanks to grants from The Missouri Coalition Celebrating Care Continuum Change, or MC5. Rolla Presbyterian Manor is one of them.

Joy knew that music is therapeutic for people with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. She just wasn’t sure how to go about using it. The Music & Memory training showed her the importance of learning each person’s favorite artists and songs. Then, caregivers can put on individualized music for residents as they see fit, both for calming and for stimulation.

“If you just ask what kind of music they like, they may not be able to answer you,” she said. “But if you show them a list, they can look at it and say, ‘I think I like Glenn Miller.’”

Joy and other staff members have been working with residents, their

friends, and family members to build their playlists and add songs to their iPods, so they can listen with headphones. And everyone is different. Joy said one man’s list runs from Johnny Cash and Conway Twitty to Elton John and Billy Joel—plus a few hymns.

It takes time to do the resident assessments and download their chosen songs, so Joy is always looking for volunteers.

College students have been helping, and a pair of sororities at the Missouri University of Science and Technology recently held a car wash that raised more than $300 to buy iTunes cards.

Today, younger people take for granted how easy it is to download and listen to any music they like. But for older generations, years may have passed since they heard “their” music.

When groups come to sing for residents, Joy said, the music can evoke a strong emotional response.

“Sometimes when they sing some of the softer songs, you might see a resident who doesn’t talk starting to cry,” Joy said. “It doesn’t mean they’re upset. Maybe that song holds some memory that they have deep inside. Maybe that’s the song from their wedding.”

And just like that, they’re alive inside again.