MANSFIELD, Ohio -- Shirley Thompson sat contently in her room at Liberty Nursing Center of Mansfield watching a black-and-white movie on her television, when Activity Director Candace Williams knocked on her door. She welcomed Williams, who pulled out an iPod shuffle and asked if she would care to listen to some music.

As Williams reached for the headphones to place on Thompson's head, Thompson shared what genre of music she enjoys listening to, noting that her personal favorite is western music, but she also likes listening to country music because it reminds her of her late husband, Joe.

"Joe loved Johnny Cash and June Carter," she said.

Williams prompted her to describe how she and her husband met Johnny Cash.

"It was during a concert," Thompson said. "My husband liked him more than I did, but it was still exciting to see him."

Thompson, who has dementia, continued to recall fond memories she has about her husband as she listened to some music.

Williams said it's typical for Thompson talk about different experiences from her past here and there, but she often goes into greater detail when she listens to music.

Seeing the effect that music can have on Thompson, along with many other residents at Liberty Nursing Center who have dementia and/or Alzheimer's, is one the reasons why Williams is especially excited about a program called Music and Memory. This program was first implemented at the nursing center in March.

Through the program, residents of Liberty Nursing Center have the opportunity listen to personalized music via iPods.

Williams said the facility became Music and Memory certified in February and was awarded a scholarship that helped them get 10 iPod shuffles and headphones for their residents.

She said they hope to get additional iPods so that each of their Alzheimer's and dementia residents will have their very own iPod. If people would like to donate any iPods, they are encouraged to do so by bringing them to the nursing center at 535 Lexington Avenue.

According to the Alzheimer's Foundation of America, music can shift mood, manage stress-induced agitation, stimulate positive interactions, facilitate cognitive function and coordinate motor movements of individuals who have Alzheimer's and related dementias.

"This happens because rhythmic and other well-rehearsed responses require little to no cognitive or mental processing. They are influenced by the motor center of the brain that responds directly to auditory rhythmic cues. A person’s ability to engage in music, particularly rhythm playing and singing, remains intact late into the disease process because, again, these activities do not mandate cognitive functioning for success," the Alzheimer's Foundation of America website states.

The Music and Memory website notes that for people with severe dementia, music can "tap deep emotional recall." 

"Favorite music or songs associated with important personal events can trigger memory of lyrics and the experience connected to the music. Beloved music often calms chaotic brain activity and enables the listener to focus on the present moment and regain a connection to others," the website adds.

Williams said she's already seen positive results since the program was first implemented last month.

She's noticed that residents' behaviors shift when listening to music--some calm down and relax if they may be anxious or resisting care; others who are less responsive may perk up and engage in some dialogue.  

"The first time we ever had one of the residents listen, it was just amazing because he doesn't really talk, and he's not very active, and when we put the music on his eyes just lit up," said Williams.

Her grandmother, Mary French, is one of the residents at the nursing home who has Alzheimer's and dementia. French is another, Williams said, who has been affected by music. "She'll start snapping her fingers and she's to that point where sometimes she'll remember me and sometimes she won't, so a lot of times, she'll start singing songs and she'll call me her sister...it's really interesting," she said.

Williams said there is currently one iPod for every three residents and that it differs with how often each resident listens to music on his or her iPod.

"For 90 percent of our activities, we use music because it stimulates them," she noted.

Sometimes music is played from a boom box, but "not everyone likes the same music," Williams noted. So what's nice about the iPods, she said, is that residents have their own playlists, so each person can listen to music that they enjoy.

She said she's downloaded an array of song selections for residents--everything from country to disco, jazz, reggae and more.

Family members have helped with the selection process, she said.

"It was very time consuming getting the music and contacting the family members to get playlists, but in the end it's worth it, she said.

"Just to see my residents perk up, just to see them smiling or having any kind of reaction, even the crying--just things like that are worth it."

This Solutions Journalism story is brought to you in part by the generous support of our Newsroom Partners: Spherion, Visiting Nurses Association, PR Machine Works, Nanogate/Jay Systems, DRM Productions, OhioHealth Mansfield Hospital, Richland Bank, Mechanics Bank, Area Agency on Aging, and many others. To learn more about Solutions Journalism at Richland Source click the "About Solutions Journalism."

Thrive Reporter

Thrive reporter. Graduate of Ontario High School and Ohio State Mansfield. Wife. Mom. Dog lover. Fitness enthusiast. Plant collector. Mac and cheese consumer.