Witherell’s Music and Memory Program Helps Those with Alzheimer’s and Other Forms of Dementia
Nathaniel Witherell resident Cordella Shaw (second from left) listens to one of her favorite songs on an iPod as part of the Witherell's new Music & Memory program. She is pictured with the following Witherell staff members: Violet Johnson (left), certified nursing assistant; Gail Carone (second from right), recreation therapist; and Jayne Kennelly (right), nurse manager.

Witherell’s Music and Memory Program Helps Those with Alzheimer’s and Other Forms of Dementia

The Witherell’s Music and MemorySM program is moving full steam ahead. In our first blog on this topic, we announced that the Witherell was working with Music and Memory, a nonprofit organization that brings personalized music into the lives of the elderly or infirm through digital music technology. The goal is to create and provide personalized playlists using iPods to enable our residents struggling with Alzheimer’s, dementia, and other cognitive and physical challenges, the opportunity to reconnect with the world through music-triggered memories and emotions. The Witherell is now one of only four organizations in Fairfield County and a dozen in Connecticut to become a Music and Memory Certified Facility.

Back in January, some 20 to 30 Witherell nursing, recreation, volunteer, and chaplaincy staff members received the training required for the Music and Memory program. Since that time, the Witherell has purchased a laptop computer (thanks to funding provided by the Friends of Nathaniel Witherell and the Nathaniel Witherell Board of Directors) to house the program’s music library.  Thus far, hundreds of songs have been downloaded into the laptop, and personalized iTunes playlists have been created and uploadedinto iPods for five residents in the pilot program.

Lynn Mason, a board-certified music therapist at the Witherell, says, “Our Music and Memory program is dependent on a true ‘person-centered care’ approach, with a resident’s musical interest being gathered from staff, family, and friends, who become part of the team that develops a very tailored, personalized playlist for each resident and helps him/her access the music.”


Resident Cordella Shaw listens to her favorite religious and gospel music on an iPod.

Among the Witherell’s first participants in the Music and Memory program is Cordella Shaw, age 94, who recently listened to her iPod in one of the Witherell’s newly remodeled porch areas and enthusiastically sang along with her beloved religious and gospel music. According to Jayne Kennelly, RN, nurse manager at the Witherell, “Mrs. Shaw was noticeably more alert and she chatted for hours following listening to her music on the iPod. It was wonderful to see.”

The Witherell is starting the Music and Memory program with residents who do not respond well in a group setting, especially those who are prone to social isolation, anxiety, and depression. Mason says, “The Music and Memory program has already proven to be a great tool for helping residents connect more to the world around them and function at their highest potential, not to mention bringing them great joy and happiness.”

Community members who would like to assist in the development of this project are welcome to donate gently used or new iPods (especially iPod shuffles), iTunes gift cards, chargers, and CD’s (especially Pop, Broadway, R&B, Motown, jazz, religious/gospel, folk, and country music). In coming months, the Witherell will be looking for volunteers who would like to help residents with the Music and Memory program. For more information, please call Lynn Mason at 203.618.4217.


video clip of Henry, who was “reawakened” by listening to his Cab Calloway favorites, from the 2012 documentary, Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory.


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