Music breaks through Alzheimer’s at Forest Hill

FORT KENT, Maine – Philip Madore, a resident at Forest Hill Rehabilitation and Skilled Nursing Center in Fort Kent for the past year, has benefited from a music program designed to reach Alzheimer’s patients.

Forest Hill Resident Philip Madore sings with Music Coordinator Catherine St. Pierre. The nursing home and rehab center participates in the Music and Memory program, designed to improve the quality of life for Alzheimer's disease patients.

Forest Hill Resident Philip Madore sings with Music Coordinator Catherine St. Pierre. The nursing home and rehab center participates in the Music and Memory program, designed to improve the quality of life for Alzheimer’s disease patients.

The Music and Memory program, said founder and Executive Director Dan Cohen, “is about bringing joy into the lives of people suffering from Alzheimer’s, other forms of dementia and a wide range of cognitive and physical impairments.” Cohen said he wanted to be able to listen to his favorite ’60s music if he ever ended up in a nursing home.

Music and Memory is a non-profit organization that brings personalized music into the lives of people through digital music technology.

Forest Hill is one of five Music and Memory-certified facilities in Aroostook County. Led by Forest Hill activities coordinator, Charlene Taggart, and music coordinator, Catherine St. Pierre, Forest Hill was successful in securing a grant and earning certification in May.

With the support of the program, the facility was able to leverage a grant to assist in the purchase of technology to help reconnect its residents to music. The program also provides access to education to assist facilities with creating personalized playlists using iPods and other digital audio systems. This allows residents to reconnect with the world of music, and ultimately to trigger memories that have been locked inside the brain.

According to Madore’s family, his level of interaction had declined over time.

“Yesterday afternoon, listening to Dad sing was absolutely awesome,” his daughter Susan Dionne said. “A flood of very good memories came to mind and the few songs he sang have been going on in my head since. His eyes were awake and alert, which we haven’t seen in a long time. Watching Dad’s reaction and hearing him sing was priceless. And we could tell the wheels kept turning after his singing.”

Dionne and Madore’s wife, Florence, had previously shared with the Forest Hill staff some words from a song he used to sing on their road trips. The staff was able to search using the keywords to the song and matched them up with the song “Under the Bridges of Paris” by Dean Martin.

Still uncertain if they had captured the right piece of music, they played it for Madore.

“His facial expression was priceless; then yesterday, the music coordinator sat with resident and family, listening to the song. The resident just started singing,” said Taggart. “Tears and hugs were shared and the resident continued on with another song by himself, just leaving everyone speechless.”

St. Pierre said, “The real work is finding the right song to trigger the individual’s memory.” She explained that a phenomenon of human biology, demonstrated by neuroscience through imaging of the brain when we listen to music, that the whole brain is involved; so even if parts of the brain are damaged, it can respond to music when the right memory is triggered.

The Forest Hill program has recently acquired six new and slightly used iPods and is looking to add four more to be designated to the first 10 residents selected to participate in the program. Over the next year, the staff will involve families, asking them to assist in narrowing down music preferences of program participants. Once they have set up music files for each of the individuals, staff will monitor the residents using depression assessment quality indicators from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid.

Forest Hill also has plans to expand beyond the iPod program by adding singing and musical instruments. Dialogue has begun with the local schools and the University of Maine at Fort Kent to assemble an intergenerational choir by December of this year. Also, special drums which attach to the walkers of residents will be purchased as part of the music ensemble. With a $700 donation from the Northern Maine Medical Center Guild, other additions will be made such as the purchase of headphones and iTunes gift cards to build up varied music files at the facility.

For more information or to contribute to the program, call (207) 834-1859.

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