Are Headphones and IPods Enough?

When I saw the film “Alive inside” for the first time last year I got all excited. The film tells about the Music and Memory project which supplies headphones and IPods loaded with personalized music selections for residents in nursing homes.  I couldn’t wait to tell my music therapist friend Chris about it. Chris is a highly skilled and experienced music therapist. Her response surprised me a little. She challenged me to think more deeply about this. She asked,

 “What’s the good of just putting headphones on people if it still leaves them isolated and disconnected from real people?”
My first thought was, I admit a bit defensive. There simply aren’t enough people, music therapists or otherwise, to sing with everyone who could benefit from it.  And that’s true. In fact that’s why I recorded a CD last year of songs people love to sing.
But Chris made an important point, one that I thought about again last night when I saw “Alive Inside” for the third time. Yes, they were putting headphones on people, which in and of itself did not create a human connection. But…in every instance, at least in the movie, there was interaction. There was conversation, there was dancing, there were shared smiles, there were shared memories.
Listening to music with headphones or on your own can be a beautiful experience and holds real value. However I would argue that it is the human interaction, the awakening and the connection, that music, delivered in any format, offers that is the real benefit.
It could be an IPod with a personalized playlist, a CD player with favorite CDs, or a real live person singing or playing. The intention and the attention required to provide someone with music they love brings the true value because every “method” offers the opportunity to connect. The important thing is to make it available and to use it!
After the showing last night a caregiver in the audience commented on how she had spontaneously and routinely sung “You Are My Sunshine” with a woman she cared for who had dementia.  She told how even in the woman’s last days, when she was no longer able to speak and largely unresponsive, this woman would mouth the words to the song as her caregiver sang to her. No IPod, no CD player, no music therapist or professional musician required. Just two people using music to stay connected.
Can you do something to help bring back the music for seniors?
Can you purchase an IPod and set of headphones for someone to use? (The GT Pavilions in Traverse City, Michigan is piloting this program and welcomes donations. Call Penny Hanks at 231-932-3000. Or donate to Music and Memory on their website.)
Can you make sure your loved one has an easy to use CD player and CDs of music they love? (Check my Resources page for the best, easy to use Music Player I have found.)

Can you arrange for a senior sing along or a music visit with me or someone else?
Can you sing “You Are My Sunshine” for someone?