by Donna Vickroy, Southtown Contact Reporter: October 21, 2015, 7:31pm
Dean Martin's "Ain't that a Kick in the Head" was one of her favorite songs, back in the day, back before dementia began a slow assault on her memory.
"Eeeeeeeee," she squealed. "Ooooh, I like. This is fun. You know how to take a girl's breath away."
Lavery was one of 15 elderly residents of the continuing care retirement facility to receive an iPod loaded with memories.
The iPod give-away last week was organized by Aishling Dalton-Kelly, owner of Aishling Companion Home Care in Orland Park.
The agency is certified in the national non-profit Music and Memory program that trains caregivers and facilities how to provide music through digital technology to elderly or infirmed patients. The program was founded by Dan Cohen in the United States in 2006. A 2012 documentary, "Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory," helped broaden its reach, which today extends into Canada and Europe.
Even before she was invited to attend a local Music and Memory presentation, Dalton-Kelly said she understood the benefits of music on people who struggle to communicate, relax and find comfort. Her mother, who lived in Ireland, struggled with dementia for seven years.
"At the end she lost her ability to talk and communicate. But all her life she was a fabulous pianist. She loved Glenn Miller," Dalton-Kelly said. "So one day when I was taking care of her I figured I'd put on some music – I mean what else can you do with a person who has dementia? -- so I put on a cd and the next thing I see through the blanket her little feet start moving, then the fingers start going and then she starts singing along.
"I thought, 'This is fantastic,'" Dalton-Kelly said.
Six months later, back in the United States, a friend invited her to a Music and Memory event.
"They talked about how end-stage dementia people can connect through music," she said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (cdc.gov), dementia is an umbrella term for a group of cognitive disorders typically characterized by memory impairment, as well as marked difficulty with language, motor activity, object recognition and executive function. Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia.
Statistics from the Alzheimer's Association (alz.org) project that by 2050 the number of people diagnosed with Alzheimer's will increase from 5.1 million to 7.1 million. Alzheimer's, which primarily affects women, is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States, according to the association.
Dalton-Kelly said because the bulk of her client base is senior citizens, many of whom have some form of dementia, she vowed to get certified and start a program here.
She reached out to Frank Guajardo, executive director at Smith Crossing.
While Dalton-Kelly launched an iPod collection drive, Guajardo contacted family members for help compiling personal playlists for each recipient.
Life Enrichment employee Caitlin Sullivan took the lead on that project.
"The favorites seem to be Sinatra, Perry Como, Glenn Miller, Dean Martin, Nat King Cole, Sammy Davis, Jr.," Sullivan said.
Dalton-Kelly's company bought and donated the ear phones because, she said, many elderly people have hearing issues and prefer over-the-ear headphones to the tiny ear buds that come with a device.
Recent college graduate Brian Paglia, who lives in Orland Park, volunteered to load the iPods.
When the devices were ready, Dalton-Kelly had them gift-wrapped and paid a visit to the retirement home.
Like Santa's elves, she, Guajardo and Sullivan wheeled a cart filled with gift bags around the facility. One by one, iPods loaded with customized playlists were handed out to residents.
Wrapped in a yellow and white afghan and sitting in a common area of the facility, Lorraine Mayes at first seemed confused by the contraption being placed on her head. But as soon as she heard Roy Orbison's "Pretty Woman" coming through the ear pieces, she got emotional.
With a hand over her heart, she began to cry.
Sullivan asked, "Are these tears of joy?"
"Thank you. Thank you," Mayes said, reaching out and kissing, first, certified nursing assistant April Supran's hand three times and, then, Guajardo's cheek.
"She does that when she's happy," Supran said.
Barb Schlegel loves Rod Stewart. Her daughter, Jill Dohm, took her to a concert a few years ago when the dementia was not so advanced.
"She's got a book in her room, a Rod Stewart shirt," Dohm said. "She likes music. Elvis and Frank Sinatra, too."
Schlegel's cognitive degeneration has been slow, Dohm said, with the last four years being the worst.
When Sullivan placed the headphones over Schlegel's ears and turned on "Bad Moon on the Rise," the 78-year-old smiled, sighed and seemed to sink deeper into her highback chair.
Dalton-Kelly said: "That is the key to the program. For people with dementia, we know that the last part of their brain to die off is the music recognition part. So when you play the tunes that they've probably forgotten, that awakens something inside them. They start to become more relaxed, less anxious, tap to the beat and maybe even become more vocal."
The aim is to "stir them from the inside out," she said. "We want them to have some sort of communication with the caregivers. Most at the end stage don't speak and can't communicate. This is a little trip down memory lane and a respite for both the patient and the caregiver. There are results that show people who were nonverbal actually begin singing the words to the songs."
Dalton-Kelly said she'd like to expand the program to other retirement homes but she understands the constraints. Facilities need a music director on staff to keep the program up and running, charge the iPods and update the music lists.
And, above all, she needs donations of iPods and CDs.
"All of this is voluntary," she said. "But it is so worth it because it is so necessary."
Guajardo said: "Once people reach a certain level within memory loss, communication is gone. Sometimes patients will be upset but we don't why because they can't express themselves. They can get angry and we don't know how to help them."
In advance of the give-away, Smith Crossing staff tested the music program on a particular resident who would sometimes get angry and upset. Guajardo said, "It worked wonderfully to calm him down."
Dalton-Kelly hopes to build case studies based on the music program and share them with other caregiver organizations.
"In our world, we think whenever there's a problem we must need a pill; let's fix it with a pill," Guajardo said. "But this is something that can fix that behavior without medication."
"The goal," Dalton-Kelly said, "is to have doctors write prescriptions for iPods instead of for pills."
For more information on Aishling Companion Home Care call 708-728-5538 or visit Aishlingcare.com
For more information on Smith Crossing, call 708-326-2308 or visit smithcrossing.org