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Music program uses today’s technology to reconnect residents with past

Posted: 11/13/2015

The Thompson House is using the transformative power of music to improve the lives of its most seriously ill residents with the goal to make personalized music listening sessions a standard of care for everyone at the skilled nursing center.

The Thompson House, a 100-bed facility on the campus of Northern Dutchess Hospital, is a newly certified care facility by the nonprofit Music & Memory. The organization helps people with a wide range of cognitive and physical challenges to find renewed meaning and connection in their lives through the gift of personalized music.

“We have witnessed what neuroscience research has proven: that the therapeutic benefits of music include not only comfort and enjoyment, but also reduced isolation, anxiety and agitation,” Thompson House administrator Elaine Trott said. “Music also can help pain medication work more effectively, stimulate movement and reduce reliance on antipsychotics.”

The Thompson House recreation staff is creating personalized music playlists for residents by asking them and their families about which musical artists, songs and genres are most meaningful and enjoyable for them. They purchase songs on iTunes and download them onto iPods. The residents then listen with staff, loved ones or enjoy listening independent.

The first phase launched with a pilot program. Residents with varying but severe health issues were selected with the goal to help them reconnect with the world through music-triggered memories.

“It is amazing to watch the residents’ reactions during these sessions,” recreation therapy aide Ann Panagulias said. “One woman who doesn’t speak kissed my hand seconds after the tunes started playing. Another woman calls me the ‘the music teacher’ and we sway together to the rhythm of the music. A 95-year-old man, who preferred the solitude of his room, now comes into the hallway to sing his favorite country songs. He points to his headphones and says, ‘This is beautiful.’ The staff share in his joy too.”

Executive Director Dan Cohen founded Music & Memory because he wanted to be able to listen to his favorite ‘60s music if he ended up in a nursing home. In 2012, a documentary premiered about his work, “Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory.” Shortly after, a video clip of the movie went viral, now with more than 11 million views, according to the organization. The Thompson House’s affiliate, Northern Dutchess Hospital, screened the documentary on April 16, 2015, boosting awareness and enthusiastic interest in the program in the local community and internally.

The Thompson House would like to broaden its pilot program to all of the facility’s special-needs residents, but is facing a shortage of iPod Shuffles. A donation of a gently used iPod will go directly to a resident and help spread the gift of music. They can be mailed to: The Thompson House, Music & Memory, 6525 Springbrook Ave., Rhinebeck NY, 12572. They can also be dropped off at Taste Budds Café, 40 W. Markets St., Red Hook. For more information, visit www.healthquest.org/thompson-house or call Sue Close at 845-871-3705.

Thompson House resident Curtis Payton and therapy aide Ann Panagulias play air guitars to a Johnny Cash tune on Nov. 11, 2015 at the Rhinebeck nursing facility, which recently launched a transformative program called Music and Memory.

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