A Musical Inspiration

The inspiration was contagious following the private viewing of the award-winning film, Alive Inside, in October 2014 by the leadership of United Church Homes. The film documents the work of Dan Cohen and the results that he was seeing when he provided music in personal playlists through iPods and headphones to older adults living in healthcare institutions. Cohen has since founded the non-profit, Music and Memory, to help provide music to elders across the country.

By the end of 2014, a UCH donor had given the funds for all six of UCH’s retirement communities to be Music and Memory certified. As a part of our own integration into this opportunity to help transform aging, it was decided that we would secure the rights to show the film at each community. Through our CHALICE Partner Program, we invited our friends, volunteers, donors and congregations to see the moving witness of the power of music to help overcome the confusion and isolation of dementia. Just as the film shares the story of how music is being used in care communities, it also documents the stories of two families and how music has shaped their care of loved ones who have been able to remain in their own homes. We wanted to share this story through the CHALICE Partner Program to show how this might also be used in churches and individual homes.

Trinity UCC in Wooster, Ohio, was one of the congregations that received the invitation to view the movie last May at Chapel Hill Community in Canal Fulton, Ohio. Inspired themselves, the staff and members who were present returned home and set a plan in motion. With seed money from their church’s endowment, they have purchased iPods, headphones and music for 10 members.

They also shared the movie with members of the congregation and will be showing it to their youth group at the end of September. Incorporated in their plan, the youth will help with the identification of the music for each of the designated member’s personal play list and the downloading of the songs and teaching the elders how to use the new iPods. The plan is for the youth to follow-up with monthly visits.

Initial research is suggesting that just three 30-minute sessions per week can help produce increased cognitive function in individuals with dementia symptoms. Music may not bring about a cure, but Music and Memory’s hope is that it allows points of connection for the elders and for those around them as the music “opens” pathways in the brain that are able to bypass areas debilitated by the dementia itself.

Stay tuned as we learn from Trinity’s experience in Wooster with Music and Memory and the impact it has on their congregation and families.