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Nonprofit uses music to improve care for dementia patients

Marketplace Contributor Nov 8, 2016
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Candyce Slusher, left, and Christy Duarte, right, help patient Marilyn Mecke listen to Julio Iglesias on her iPod.
Lucia Benavides

Marilyn Mecke is a  72-year-old post-stroke patient with dementia at the Oak Park Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in San Antonio, Texas. She has her iPod and a playlist that includes Elvis, Patsy Cline and the Beatles. Today she’s listening to Julio Iglesias.

“That’s her favorite,” said Christy Duarte, marketing director at Oak Park. “She kind of grew up in the Valley and her sister said she really loved listening to him.”

Playlists for patients’ iPods. 

Duarte helps coordinate a program that brings music to patients with dementia, with the help of a nonprofit called MUSIC Project. Mecke, who normally sits and just stares at the ground,  starts looking around the room when the music comes on.

Oak Park is one of three facilities in San Antonio working with M.U.S.I.C. Project. The program incorporates music into patients’ everyday lives – just as they bathe and dress, they listen to music. Candyce Slusher, co-founder of M.U.S.I.C. Project, said music can help calm them, give them a better quality of life and even be a substitute for drugs.

“It’s really all about reducing the need for as-needed psychotropic medications,” Slusher said.

Those medications can make the patients groggy and less coordinated. Since the program was implemented in February, there has been a 60 percent drop in patient falls. The Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services has a goal of bringing this type of music program to more than 1,200 facilities statewide. Oak Park is one of its 32 pilot facilities.

“We know that when people listen to music, there are actually physical responses that come about,” said Bob Duke, who heads the division of music and human learning at the University of Texas in Austin.

Duke has researched the relationship between music, memory and motor skills. He said music elicits a multidimensional kind of memory that can stimulate the body in many ways.

“Because it does trigger some memories that are retrievable even after suffering from dementia, I think everyone in the interaction feels positive about that,” Duke said.

M.U.S.I.C. Project runs entirely on fundraisers and donated iPods. Each patient’s playlist is created by staff with suggestions from the patient’s family. Last time Mecke’s sister came to visit, the two sat down with her iPod and headphone splitter, and spent an hour just listening in each other’s company.

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