Eastern Health’s Music & Memory pilot program brings personalized music to residents living in long-term care facilities. David Diamond, President and CEO, Eastern Health, says the program is part of “a multi-faceted approach to treat residents in long-term care, including those suffering from dementia and other behavioural problems.”

Science has proven that our brains naturally connect music with our long-term memory. For those afflicted with ailments like Alzheimer’s, dementia, and similar cognitive challenges affecting memory, familiar music can trigger well-preserved memories, enabling the listener to focus on the present moment and to regain a connection to others.

The benefits of this form of therapeutic music intervention have been well-documented, and also include mood improvement and enhanced verbal communication and physical activity. Dr. Aaron McKim, Clinical Chief for Long-Term Care at Eastern Health, says that “music can reduce the agitation of dementia, lessen anxiety, reduce pain, lower blood pressure, and help with sleep.”

He adds that, for therapists, nurses, and other health providers who are caring for residents, “therapeutic music intervention can help to increase attention and cooperation, and to reduce resistance to care, while fostering a calmer environment.”

Employees are claiming several distinct benefits of the pilot program, including:

  • After several days listening to her favourite music, a resident with advanced dementia, and who was non-verbal – began to speak again. She was able to let other people know her wishes, and can now communicate with family and members of her health care team.
  • A resident, who was normally agitated and combative during morning care (i.e. washing and dressing,) became more relaxed and content after listening to his favourite lyrics.
  • Therapeutic music intervention has inspired singing and dancing at Eastern Health’s long-term care facilities. Overall, residents are happier and less agitated.

During the last 18 months, Eastern Health’s Music & Memory program was successfully piloted at three Eastern Health sites. They were: Saint Luke’s Homes and St. Patrick’s Mercy Home in St. John’s, and Harbour Lodge Nursing Home in Carbonear. Approximately 50 residents are benefiting from the therapeutic potential of music.

Eastern Health plans to expand the Music & Memory program on a site-by-site basis with the goal of standardizing this practice across long-term care facilities. “It is a highly collaborative program involving the residents, families, health care professionals, volunteers and the community at-large,” said Alice Kennedy, Vice-President with responsibility for Long-Term Care.

Founded in 2006, Music & Memory is an American non-profit organization whose program is featured in the film Alive inside: A story of music and memory, produced by Michael Rossado Bennett. The 2014 Sundance award-winning documentary, is available on Netflix and YouTube for free.