By Kirsten Irgens-Moller, North County Regional Supervisor
I’m back!! After finishing my field placement for my MSW at San Francisco State, I have returned to the Ombudsman Service as staff person. I couldn’t be happier, both for the support and training I received from the staff here at the office and for the openness and generosity of the many residents and family members who have shared their stories with me.
The topic of my senior thesis came from these wonderful conversations – Music, Memory and Families in Dementia Care. If you haven’t seen the wonderful film Alive Inside or visited the website – MusicandMemory – please do! You will begin to see people living with dementia in a whole new light.
The Ombudsman Services in conjunction with the While We Wait Fund and the Music and Memory organization ™ has helped to launch a pilot program in San Mateo to help facilities get trained and certified in the Music and Memory program. Six facilities have gone through the training and are now beginning to offer the program to residents.
My thesis dealt with the experiences of family members whose loved ones participated in the program the question I posed was: Could music be used to build a bridge between families and institutions? Caregiver stress, feelings of guilt and loss and the depersonalization of institutional routines can strain relationships between the person living with dementia and their families. Often families have put years into the care of their family member as the dementia progresses. When they are no longer in charge of daily care, family members sometimes have a hard time figuring out how to be involved with the resident, who may no longer recognize or acknowledge them.
Music can be a powerful tool for improving mood and engagement for people with dementia. Personalized play-lists of music enjoyed in an earlier life can awaken memories and emotional responses that open a person up to both the present and the past. The key is that the music is part of their personal histories and favorites and not just music of the “period”. Some people begin to talk, to socialize and to become momentarily alert and engaged.
This engagement is profoundly meaningful for family members—it helps them to tap into the wisdom and memories of their loved ones, paint a picture of happy times, calm distress and allow residents and their family members to do something together that is not related to stressful caregiving activities. Its also a great way to get i-tunes literate kids involved in the grandparents lives!
As a newly minted social worker, I found that using personalized music to decrease agitation, stimulate and comfort a resident and increase family connections allows us to treat the person rather than the disease, an important social work concept. The Music and Memory ™ program is one more tool for more compassionate care and intergenerational connection.
I’m excited to be on board at the Ombudsman Services and to work with volunteers to continue to expand the program. If you’d like to volunteer in the program please contact our volunteer coordinator, Sherine Elamad – firstname.lastname@example.org.