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Local Alzheimer’s Society offers music to help patients cope

By Martin Allen [1]

BELLEVILLE  – The Hastings-Prince Edward Alzheimer’s Society is offering iPods to patients, citing the benefits music can have on the brain.

Under the Music for Me program, each person is given an iPod Shuffle [2], a music selection of their choosing, headphones and a charger. The devices can be borrowed for as long as patients like.

Amelia Huffman, fund development co-ordinator for the Alzheimer’s Society, is looking for help with the project. The society serves 3,063 people throughout its service area, stretching from North Hastings to Prince Edward County

“Currently, we are working towards providing a more personalized music experience for our clients,” she said. “We are actively looking for volunteers to work on the project, and to help us load iPods with more specific music.”

The local Alzheimer’s Society receives most of its funding from fundraisers, she said.

“With only 40 per cent of our budget ($200,000) funded by the (South East) Local Health Integration Network, donations and volunteers are always needed to help keep this program operational.”

The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America speaks highly [3] of the impact music can have on people with the disease.

Huffman agrees, explaining how music can transcend the boundaries of disability.

“Music is just one of those things. It’s amazing to see what positive impact it can have on mood and brain function.”

Elizabeth Heslinga, a local music therapist, agrees. She works in long-term group homes with people who have Alzheimer’s.

“I begin each session with a hello song, welcoming each client by name,” she said. ” Throughout the 30-45 minute session, I offer song choice and encourage movement such as clapping, swaying to the music or tapping feet or singing along.

“Following the session, I document what I observed so that the other professionals in the home can see what a particular resident is capable of.”

Heslinga notes that while music therapy does have significant medical benefits, it’s often the emotional impact that’s heaviest.

“I frequently am graced with smiles and full-on engagement during these sessions,” she says. “I have experienced several individuals who are typically very confused and distressed, who for 30 minutes will be fully present, singing familiar songs with me.”

Noting the advanced age of her audience, she says the most often-requested songs are oldies, westerns and hymns.

She has to keep tabs on the session to prevent the patients from partying too hard, she said with a laugh.

“Some people will get up and dance, but I try to encourage clapping or foot tapping more often so as not to create chaos with everyone getting up dancing.”