It’s in the Music: Students Help Revive Memories for Dementia Patients

A new partnership between The Healdsburg School and a local senior living community brings seventh and eighth graders together with residents suffering from moderate or acute dementia. Coordinated by science teacher Carrie Smith and two Healdsburg Senior Living directors, the project was inspired by “Alive Inside,” a documentary showing how music can elicit memories and responses from these patients.

In September, 22 students were paired with and began visiting ten residents who’d been given iPod shuffles. As they became better acquainted, the students created personalized playlists that might resonate with their new friends. One resident, listening to “The Star Spangled Banner,” cried as she described the first time she was allowed to vote. Another reacted to her selections with a smile — her team had discovered that Beethoven was her favorite composer.

“It’s a good fit for the school,” Mrs. Smith says of the partnership. “In seventh-grade life science, students explore the anatomy and functions of the brain and learn that the area associated with musical memory is one of the last places affected by dementia. So hearing specific music relevant to a person’s life can trigger memories in that area — and others can start to resurface.”

The benefits work both ways. “I don’t have grandparents, so this gives me the opportunity to have that experience,” says seventh grader Paolo. His partner, Krista, was initially scared. “But knowing I’m making a difference has really changed my perspective.” Students will continue their monthly visits until playlists are completed; then the project starts over and new connections will be made.

Does your school do something similar?

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