Music Rekindles Memories at Cedar Community

For Barbara Fedderly, music produces an awakening.

When she listens to her iPod, the resident of Cedar Community in West Bend, Wisconsin, is suddenly animated.

“She will hold her shoulders and sometimes smile,” Norman Fedderly says of his wife’s reaction to the music.

Barbara is one of 19 current Cedar Community residents enrolled in the Music & Memory program, launched in 2014. The program, which is also offered by several other CHHSM members, uses music delivered to residents through iPods in a therapy program to rekindle memories and stimulate emotion in patients with mid-to-late stage severe dementia.

Music can trigger memories of lyrics and the experiences connected with the melodies, according to Music & Memory, a nonprofit program established in 2008 with funding from the Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation. Music can often “calm chaotic brain activity and enable the listener to focus on the present moment and regain a connection to others,” the group says.

Cedar Community initially received 10 iPods and headphones at no charge from Music & Memory, says Lisa Kelling, a music therapist at Cedar Community. Kelling and another therapist completed the organization’s certification through a series of online classes. They continue learning through monthly webinars.

One resident comes from a family that is very musical and has a polka band, she says.

“That’s the only music we have on her iPod,” says Kelling. “There are days when that is the only way she will take her medication, if she is listening to her iPod.”

Music has helped other patients who are having trouble focusing on eating because they are anxious, says Kelling.

Residents have different preferences for music and will let team members know if they don’t like the songs they are hearing. If the resident isn’t able to answer questions regarding their preferences, the families are then interviewed.

“Some will try to pull the headphones off if it’s something they don’t like,” Kelling says. ”Sometimes they will grimace or give you a look so that you can tell it’s not their preference.”

In their younger days, Norman says he and his wife enjoyed dancing and listening to the radio. He says Barbara was never a musician but always enjoyed music, including folk singers such as Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger.

Barbara’s love of music is still there, Norman says, a remnant of the past rekindled.

“She doesn’t respond much when I talk to her,” he says. “You can tell music makes a difference.”

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