Music and Memory Program Growing at Wentworth Heights

‘I love to see the smiles on their faces,’ says Michelle Roukema

By Kristian Partington

In early 2012, a six-minute video clip from the movie Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory was posted to YouTube. It features a man named Henry who, though living in the later stages of Alzheimer’s disease, seems to awaken from a blank state of mind when an iPod filled with his favourite music is offered to him. The clip has since been viewed more than 11.6 million times and the idea that personalized music can be a positive force to improve the lives of those living with dementia has spread through the world of eldercare.

Music and Memory is now entrenched as one of six signature programs offered to Schlegel Villages residents and throughout the villages, team members, families and residents have witnessed the positive effect music can have on people who are living with various forms of dementia and memory loss.  

“I’ve had families show me and tell me how much they appreciate it,” says

Michelle Roukema, a recreation team member at The Village of Wentworth Heights who does much of the Music and Memory programming. “They see the difference and they’ll come to me to say, ‘can I have my mom’s iPod?’ I see the importance of music because I know it’s important for me, so it’s important for the residents to have music that they enjoy and have that connection, because it’s not easy for them to access their music.”

Over the past several months, team members from across the village in each neighbourhood have been working to make it easier for residents to access their personalized music and Michelle has been keeping track. During the last few months of 2015, for example, residents were offered almost 550 individual hours of personalized listening time thanks to the program.

In Michelle’s mind, residents spent that time in a good space, their frame of mind peaceful, which is not always the case for someone who is living with dementia. The music brings happiness, she says. “We can give them what they want and I love to see the smiles on their faces and the dancing and the singing.”

The impact is really noticeable in the evenings, when people living with dementia are sometimes more prone to express themselves with agitation. The music has a calming influence in many cases, says Michelle, and the neighbourhood as a whole takes on an air of peace and happiness.

That’s the power of music, and why the village continues to work on expanding the program. The 2016 goal is to add another 25 iPods to the program, bringing the total to 75 residents. The village is accepting donations of new and used iPod Shuffles and Nanos, as well as iTunes gift cards to enhance their music library.

Contact to learn more about how you can get involved at Wentworth Heights or any recreation team member in your village.