Let’s Talk About It: Magic of music validated with dementia project

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I recently attended the 2014 Canadian Conference on Dementia in Vancouver. The focus of the conference was a “person-centred approach to dementia care.”

Research presented by leaders in the field proved that we need to offer this approach. This is nothing new to anyone working or familiar with dementia but this type of care is hard to find.

According to the Alzheimer’s Society, “This approach aims to see the person with dementia as an individual, rather than focusing on their illness or on abilities they may have lost. Instead of treating the person as a collection of symptoms and behaviours to be controlled, person-centred care considers the whole person, taking into account each individual’s unique qualities, abilities, interests, preferences and needs. Person-centred care also means treating residents with dementia with dignity and respect.”

Families can play a role in reaching their loved one, lost to the world as we know it, in a very personal way. A close friend described the sad state of her mother’s condition in a nursing home. No longer able to chew or swallow, a feeding tube kept her mother alive. Mary’s mother’s favourite food was chocolate and potato chips. So during her visits, Mary got into the habit of dabbing her mother’s tongue with a touch of chocolate and a speck of a potato chip.

Mary could feel that her mother enjoyed these tiny treats and asked the staff to do the same. Within a year, her mother slowly started eating enough to have her feeding tube removed. Having this knowledge of her mother’s favourite food and sharing this with the staff brought her mother to a place that otherwise would have been unattainable.

Conference-goers were shown a film showing an iPod project that brought people into a world of music and memory. Unresponsive patients were given iPods filled with personalized music and we watched in awe as their eyes opened wide and their minds were brought to life. Something so simple as an individualized music playlist can make all the difference. The Alzheimer’s Society and other organizations are finding ways to broaden this project.

If you have a loved one in a nursing home, I strongly urge you to fill an iPod with meaningful music and place the headphones on him or her. Then stand back and watch, and you may just be blown away by the reaction. If you are a teacher looking for a student project, this topic would be amazing.

Get involved by donating an iPod to one of the organizations doing this kind of work. Discover more at musicandmemory.org.

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