Pat Shimmin’s favorite songs come from the Broadway hit “The Sound of Music.” She likes to sing along.
“When I sing, I just leave the chair,” said Shimmin, 87.
Shimmin listens to the songs made famous by Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer as part of Vienna Nursing & Rehabilitation Center’s Music and Memories program.
After seeing the documentary film “Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory,” Vienna staff began looking into how they could implement a music therapy program for residents with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Now, they want to share the program with other programs for seniors in Lodi.
The theory is that music therapy may be able to help slow residents’ memory loss.
“When people get Alzheimer’s or dementia, parts of the brain are slowly affected,” Vienna marketing director Jamie Henderson said. “The last part of the brain to go is the part that holds music.”
So staff tries to find music that holds special memories for residents. A veteran may have a playlist of the kinds of songs performed at USO shows. Musicians or dancers may hear songs they once performed.
A lot of the patients like traditional country or religious music. Johnny Cash is popular, Henderson said.
“We’re trying to find music that sparks something for them,” she said.
Vienna was certified in the national program in March. Since then, they’ve provided music therapy to residents and their families.
They’ve already seen some incredible improvements among their residents, Henderson said. Several patients who had become non-verbal will now speak — not always a full conversation, but they’ve gone from not speaking a word to short sentences. Some sing along with their music.
The music can lift patients’ moods. For patients like Shimmin, it puts them in a good mood.
“I am so full of joy! I am up here, not down there,” Shimmin said, gesturing to show her meaning.
For those who are depressed or agitated, it can help calm or soothe them, Henderson said.
The calming effect is especially important because some dementia patients are prescribed psychiatric medications, including anti-psychotics, to keep them calm, Henderson said. It’s a practice Vienna avoids whenever possible, because the medications can have side effects and aren’t usually very effective.
“It’s just one of those things that have been done for so long, because people don’t really know what to do with Alzheimer’s,” Henderson said.
Music therapy has helped to reduce the need, she said.
Several patients who were formerly easily upset now walk around singing, she said. They even associate an elevated mood with music.
“What we’re seeing is that they notice someone else is happy, and then they want music,” Henderson said.
Relieving patients’ depression, anxiety and agitation has made it easier for them to connect with their families, according to Vienna.
Vienna has had so much success with Music and Memories that they want to share the program with the LOEL Senior Center and Lodi Health’s Adult Day Care program.
To that end, they’re screening “Alive Inside,” the documentary that inspired their own program, as a fundraiser. Proceeds will go to certify the two senior centers in the program and jumpstart their programs.
Vienna’s program is just for the nursing home’s residents, but when LOEL and Lodi Health are certified, they’ll be able to open their programs to whoever they want.
The $20 ticket price for the film screening will include dinner, and McKay Cellars will be pouring for an additional cost. A portion of the cost of each glass will also go toward the fundraiser.
The Music and Memories program is important, Shimmin said.
“If people are sad, even if they can’t carry a tune — just sing! It will carry you up. What music does for you — you can be sad, and you can hum, and it fills you up in here,” she said, motioning to her heart. “It makes you feel better.”