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Meaningful Music brings spark back to seniors

By Josh Aldrich, Camrose Canadian

Josh Aldrich/ Camrose Canadian
The Camrose Public Library has been working on a pilot project with funding from the Rotary Club of Camrose Daybreak and Sunrise Village to reinvigorate memories in seniors with music.

Josh Aldrich/ Camrose Canadian The Camrose Public Library has been working on a pilot project with funding from the Rotary Club of Camrose Daybreak and Sunrise Village to reinvigorate memories in seniors with music.

Technology is generally thought of as a way to make life easier and more efficient. 


Kelsey Mailer used it to bridge a generational gap and to bring good memories back to those suffering from dementia. 

While working at the Camrose Public Library as the intergenerational programmer as a summer student at the University of Alberta-Augustana last summer, Mailer developed a pilot project called Meaningful Music. In conjunction with Sunrise Village in Camrose, she connected with several families at the facility and set up music play lists on iPods for residents with their favourite music from years gone by.  

“When you listen to music that there are strong emotional connections to or memories, it brings you back to those times in your life,” said Mailer. “Music is often a really powerful medium for a lot of people and it’s really personal too … it brings those memories to life in people.” 

Sunrise Village Lifestyle Manager Christina Rehman has watched the impact the program has had on their residents since the program began in this past fall. In most cases the results have been immediate. 

“With one gentleman in our secure unit, he was frustrated and closed off an non-responsive. We were having difficulty finding a way to communicate with him. His daughter put together a playlist that included songs  that he used to sing and perform when he was in a quartet and he just lit up like Christmas.” 

Rehman says from there he was much happier to take part in activities and to interact with care staff. 

For most of the participants, it isn’t just about the music and being piped through head phones. For some the impact is made when they are able to listen to the music on a speaker and share it with their family and friends who come to visit. 

“She doesn’t have a cognitive disorder, but she is almost 100. It’s just a way to brighten her up,” said Rehman. “Music has a way of connecting people with their past and their present and it’s a way for her  to bring the music she grew up with in the 20s that her parents used to sing with her and sing with the community to folks that are her present.” 

The program is a fairly simple one to put into action and is funded by the Rotary Club of Camrose Daybreak. All that needed to be proved was an iPod or MP3 player and a playlist of songs that the resident would be able to connect with. Mailer then took the lists and loaded the device with the music using iTunes cards. 

Residents who are tech savvy and want to set it up outside of the project are encouraged to do so, the project is there for those who may not know their way around an iPod or some of the programs. 

The next step is take the program, expand it out and build sustainability into it, something the Senior’s Coalition, which Rehman is a part of, is looking into. 

Mailer got the idea for the project after watching the documentary “Alive Inside” and wanted to bring it to Camrose. After holding a screening in the city last June, they received enough feedback to proceed with the pilot project. 

Mailer says there is research that shows music is something that is not lost in dementia as it effects so many parts of your memory. 

“There is something about neuroconnections in your brain that even throughout dementia, you don’t lose that connection to music like you would maybe other memories,” she said. 

Mailer ads that often times care givers will be able to stop the music mid-way through a song an engage in more meaningful conversation with their loved one because of the initiation of those memories that the music provokes. 

Mailer will be moving on from the project as she graduates from the university this spring from her global and development studies program.

She is looking to continue her education at an occupational therapy school where she will be working towards a master’s degree. 

She has a passion for working with the elderly and hopes this project continues on and be picked up by the next intergenerational programmer. 

“Over the last couple of years I’ve really developed a calling to work with seniors and I realize how much that makes me come a live working with geriatrics and with seniors,” said Mailer, who continues to volunteer at the library. “With the library I’ve been really lucky to be able to do a lot of programming with seniors.” 

For those who want to get involved or get a loved one involved in the program, they are asked to contact the library or Rehman at Sunrise Village. 


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