arts-e1410731038391By contributor Carly Breault

Dementia is comprised of symptoms that progressively affect mental tasks such as memory, planning, judgment, emotional regulation, and personality. As the aging population continues to expand in Canada, dementia is becoming increasingly prevalent. As a consequence, the individual’s everyday life is tragically, and irrevocably, impaired. In turn, their loved ones also struggle with the devastating impact that dementia brings.

Nanaimo’s Kiwanis Lodge is a senior complex care community that houses elderly residents who require 24-hour personal care from nursing staff. Forms of dementia are particularly common in the residents of the Kiwanis Lodge. Given that a plethora of contemporary research has supported the use of music as a therapeutic intervention for individuals with dementia, Kiwanis Lodge has implemented a “Music and Memory” program with a collection of its residents. This program involves connecting participating residents with dementia to personalized music to elicit memories of the past, and improve their overall quality of life.

I began volunteering with the Music and Memory Program last semester. My role as a volunteer with the Music and Memory Program is to first contact the resident’s family members to get an idea of the kinds of music the resident enjoyed in the past.

Secondly, I will upload the suggested music onto the resident’s designated iPod. Next, I will meet with the participants, and, with their approval, give them their iPod with their personalized playlist and headphones to listen to the music. I observe and record any changes in mood, anxiety level, communication, etc. during and after listening to their music. After they finish listening to their music, I often stay and chat with the participants. My observations are placed in a binder, and used to record any positive changes in the participant.

A number of years ago, my beloved Grandma was inflicted with dementia. My Grandma passed away almost two years ago, so in her memory, I wanted to honour her by helping others who struggle with the same disease she fought. While volunteering with the program, I have personally observed the extraordinary power of music to bring healing, comfort, and an overall enhanced well-being among the residents with whom I had the privilege of working. I have become hopeful that there are alternative (i.e. non-pharmaceutical) interventions that are effective in helping individuals cope with dementia. The Music and Memory Program is of exponential value.

However, the program is urgently in need of more volunteers. Volunteers are welcomed from all academic disciplines, and musical talent is not a prerequisite. If you would like to be involved with this wonderful program you can email the Kiwanis volunteer coordinator Alanna Larsen. For more information about the Music and Memory initiative, you can visit the Music and Memory website.