FEATURE | Posted Dec. 29, 2016

Music & Memory

iPods, personalized playlists hold promise for improved dementia care

Music therapy is uplifting to Gertrude Lasley, another participant in the School of Nursing's Music & Memory study. Click here for video

Donna Rolufs remembers back when she was a child that her mother just loved music.

“The record player was going, and on holidays we had music,” Rolufs said. “And if we were in a store and her music came on, she would dance in the store.”

Today, Donna and her mother, Ruth Roenspie, are bringing back some of those happy times thanks to a special music project that’s designed to improve dementia care in skilled nursing facilities.

Developed by Dan Cohen, the Music & Memory project re-introduces nursing home residents, like Ruth, to their favorite music tracks to improve their day-to-day life and determine if familiar tunes can reduce the need for medication and improve quality of life.

Now researchers from the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at UC Davis and the California Association of Health Facilities are partners on a 36-month study to determine if music therapy works, how it works and if practices can be sustained for this and other quality-improvement programs in long-term care facilities.

Personalized music stirs memories

Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at UC Davis study participant Gertrude Lasley wears iPod headphones to listen to her favorite tunes
Music and dementia: Musical favorites bring back happy memories for Ruth Roenspie, a participant in a School of Nursing music research project.

“Everyone thought Ruth was perfect for this program,” said Stephanie Black, social services director at Eskaton Care Center Manzanita. “She has a tendency to withdraw sometimes, and I'll bring her the iPod, and she usually starts singing and starts dancing. Everyone notices.”

“We build playlists with music that they played at their weddings, lullabies that they sang to their babies, songs they danced to at their high school gym, and they go there,” said Jocelyn Montgomery, clinical services director, California Association of Health Facilities.

Rolufs agrees. “I walk in and I see mom, and she’ll be in a state where she’s just not there. “They’ll put the music on and she snaps right back.”

Older adults with dementia who get a personalized music program do better, according to Debra Bakerjian, associate adjunct professor at the School of Nursing. “They don't need as much medication, but it's more than just the medication, it's their quality of life,” she said.

Collecting data, building a foundation

Bakerjian has had a long clinical career and hands-on experience working with older adults in nursing-home settings. She is working with School of Nursing Associate Professor Elena O. Siegel to build the foundation for a strong and sustainable program that can serve as a model for other skilled nursing-care facilities nationwide.

The researchers said that historically so many quality improvement projects do well for the first six or eight months and then progress falls off. Their goal is to build a resource manual to share with others based on data that they’ve collected early and throughout the program’s implementation.

Lifting the spirits of elders with dementia

“I am here because my memory is bad.,” But when the music starts, I can remember the time when the music was, and when I sung it. If I'm down, it brings me up, and if I'm up, I go up higher."

— Gertrude Lasley
study participant

The program is focused on finding what is important for residents and how caregivers can help them get more happiness out of their day.

“I am here because my memory is bad,” said Gertrude Lasley. “But when the music starts, I can remember the time when the music was, and when I sung it. If I'm down, it brings me up, and if I'm up, I go up higher.

“If we could wake up in the morning and hear that beautiful music, and go to bed at night listening to it, it wouldn't be so much madness, so much anger,” Lasley said.

Rolufs is grateful for the joy music has brought back to her mother.

“I want to thank you for giving her that time that she can go back to and find peace in it,” Rolufs said.

Additional links:

UC Davis School of Nursing partners with statewide nursing home organization to improve dementia care

Debra Bakerjian, Ph.D., A.P.R.N., F.A.A.N., F.A.A.N.P.

Preparing nursing-home leaders to overcome challenges and improve care