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Music & Memory program at Heartland Country Village helps people with dementia

Program can awaken long-lost memories and reduce agitation


Photo contributed

Music & Memory Project Manager Kelly Anthony poses with resident Kensel Disrud who was the first person at Heartland County Village in Black Earth to be part of the Music & Memory program.

Heartland County Village in Black Earth has received grant funding for the Music & Memory program.

The goal of Music & Memory is to connect nursing home residents and others with their individual histories, giving them back their own music and awakening even long-lost memories, identity, and personhood using inexpensive and readily available technology. The program is for residents battling Alzheimer's Disease and other dementias as well as physical and cognitive challenges.

"Hearing an old song associated with a memory prompts a deep, emotional feeling," explained Heartland Country Village CEO/Administrator Cheri McCormick. "Beloved music calms a chaotic mind and can reduce agitation."

Additionally, the program has been shown to increase resident cooperation and attention, improve engagement and socialization, and provide more meaningful activity; it also offers a non-pharmaceutical approach to reducing pain, depression, anxiety, and insomnia.

"I'm all for anything that is non-pharmaceutical and doesn't involve pills," McCormick said. "If this program helps one person, it is worth it."

To implement this program, Heartland County Village received 10 iPod shuffles, headphones, and chargers, and they purchased their own laptop strictly for this program. They also got $100 in iTunes giftcards to be used for the program. The program is funded through civil money penalties.

Each identified resident, who has to have a dementia-diagnosis, has their own individual playlist that they can listen to whenever they want. Everything is kept secure in a cabinet. Currently, there are seven residents identified as being able to participate in the program, and McCormick is hoping to have most of them onboard by the end of March as that is the deadline to have the program up and running.

"To participate in the program, residents have to consent to it, and we are in the process of getting family members' consent along with residents," McCormick stated. "There are quite a few residents with dementia, but right now, we are just starting small."

McCormick is hoping to partner with Wisconsin Heights Schools to recruit volunteers to work with the residents as students are very technology-savvy. The students will get to know the residents and work with the technology. It also makes sure that the next generation has the tools, resources, and knowledge of dementia to deal with it.

One resident who is already part of the program, Kensel Disrud, has already had success with the program. "He, Disrud, just beamed," said Kelly Anthony, Heartland Country Village activities assistant and Music & Memory program director. "He just kept saying 'Oh my gosh, oh my gosh.' He was so thankful."

Right now, four staff members are trained in Music & Memory and have the certification. Other staff members are being trained, but nursing has to buy into it is as the program has to be made part of the residents' care plans. That is in the works as well.

The next step through the same program is possibly getting iPads or tablets for residents as it will allow them to do brain activity games, explained Julie Hyland, Director of the Wisconsin Music & Memory Student Program.

"Middleton and Cross Plains are both committed to being dementia-friendly communities," Hyland said. "A lot of that is training businesses to provide great customer service and being aware of a person's changes and offering assistance if needed. We're seeing a shift towards making communities more accessible."

Donations of headphones, iPods, original CDs, iTunes giftcards, or money are greatly appreciated. To learn more about the program, learn how to volunteer, or make a donation, visit


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