American woman, Betsy Stephens, who has spent the last two years living between Colorado and Whakatane, is on a mission to bring Music & Memory to Aotearoa.

The programme aims to help people in nursing homes and other care facilities, including many with dementia, to feel reconnected with the world through music-triggered memories while listening to personalised playlists on devices such as iPods.

Music & Memory Australia/New Zealand director Melanie Karajas. Photo/Supplied

Stephens became involved with Music & Memory after watching her mother, who had Alzheimer’s, light up and tap her feet when music was played.

She then introduced the programme, which was created by American social worker Dan Cohen in 2010, to Colorado through her position as Executive Assistant to the Health Facilities and Emergency Medical Services Division at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

A desire to live in a small place like the Colorado town she grew up in brought her to Whakatane and she now hopes to help enable facilities in New Zealand to use the service by offering to pay for their initial certification through an inheritance she was left from her parents.

“I hope to be able to set this programme up here, I am trying to get the word out about the programme and connect with families who have loved ones who could benefit from this.

“Everyone I have talked to about it is excited, it’s definitely something that could be of benefit to people in New Zealand.”

Facilities that have used it have seen improvements in patient happiness and a decrease in anger, she said.

“It’s amazing to see people light up, the personalised touch to music is what makes it so great.”

The programme is being used in more than 100 sites in Australia but hasn’t yet been implemented in New Zealand.

Music & Memory Australia/New Zealand director Melanie Karajas said she hoped facilities in New Zealand would be on board with using the programme.

“We would love to speak with any organisations who are keen to learn more or are already committed to bringing personalised music to those in their care.

“With on-demand, recorded webinar training, an online hub including hundreds of guiding documents/ videos and an online community forum connecting thousands of Music & Memory caregivers around the world, organisations in New Zealand have everything they need to implement the program.”

Having someone like Stephens being able to pay for certification would be immensely helpful to New Zealand facilities, she said.

“Betsy’s experience and passion for Music & Memory will be an invaluable asset. Having been part of a state rollout in the USA and already contributing to her community as a volunteer in various areas, we are honoured to have her help with Music & Memory.”

Music & Memory can help people living in care feel less lonely by using inexpensive and readily available technology loaded with tailored playlists, Karajas said.

“For individuals living in rest homes, on dialysis, patients in hospitals and so many other areas, hearing beloved music can make the difference between isolation and connection.

“Often, they have left behind familiar surroundings, familiar faces, and even their favourite music.

“Despite loved ones’ and professional caregivers’ best efforts, their lives often lack spontaneity, choice, and reliable social interaction.”

Personalised music enables people to reconnect with their past and often awakening long-lost memories as well as a new sense of identity, she said.

Alzheimer’s New Zealand chief executive Catherine Hall said while music therapy was not a new concept it was a positive way to help people with dementia.

“It’s certainly well accepted that keeping engaged and active helps, whether that be through music, dance, exercise or puzzles.

“The more active and engaged we are, the more supported and independent we are.”

However, the type of activities and therapy used to help engage people with dementia should vary depending on the person, she said.

“It all comes down to individual preference, it’s important for facilities to make sure there’s a range of things on offer…give people the opportunity to choose things that are right for them.

“For some people that’s music.”

Stephens plans to cover the cost of facility certification, training and equipment for an initial pilot project in New Zealand and a cost/benefit analysis.

If the programme is deemed a success following the initial roll-out, she hopes to continue to provide funds for certification and equipment in additional facilities, as needed or requested.

More information on the programme can be found here.

Banner: Betsy Stephens at the Hospice Shop in Whakatane where she works while in New Zealand. Photo/Supplied


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