Yorkville 115 music students participate in music playlist program helping seniors remember
OSWEGO – The auditory cortex, located in the center of the brain, is where music memory is stored. For as long as someone is breathing, that person has access to music memory.
The auditory cortex also happens to be the last part of the brain to be impacted by Alzheimer’s. That's why music is such a powerful therapeutic tool for senior citizens living with dementia and memory issues and it's important to start that kind of awareness for dementia in today's youth, according to local organizers for the Alive Inside Foundation initiative based on the documentary directed by Michael Rossato-Bennett.
Bobby Vriezen, music director for the school and sponsor for the music honor society, said 14 Yorkville High School music students, who are part of the school's Tri-M Music Honor Society, interviewed seven older adults at the Oswego Senior Center about their favorite types of music a few weeks ago as part of the program meant to help seniors who have dementia make cognitive improvements through music.
The students later put together playlists based on the senior's preferences, Vriezen said. On Monday, Dec. 16, the students returned with the playlists and headphones, which came at no cost to the school, for the seniors to keep so the seniors can enjoy the music tailored to their preferences at the Oswego Senior Center, he said.
Vriezen said some of those questions asked included where the senior participant grew up, what year they were born, what they would listen to on the radio and what their family was like.
"Then we go down the rabbit hole and see where that takes us," Vriezen said.
As one looked around the room, the students and seniors could be seen singing and clapping along to songs on the playlists together. Some students and seniors even got up to dance to tunes like Glenn Miller's "In The Mood."
Chip Staley, a facilitator for the Alive Inside program sponsored by AgeGuide, said the Yorkville students underwent hours-long training on dementia ahead of the event. He said he has helped other area schools start similar programs, and the point of the program is to train teachers so they can keep up the program by themselves in the future.
Staley said musical memory is entwined with language and visual and experiential memories, and the goal is to find the right music that will help bring out those memories. He said music that seniors with memory issues listened to between the ages of 14 and 22 is the sweet spot that can help accomplish that type of desired memory response.
"We've found people who were nonverbal suddenly able to find their voice," Staley said. "We've found people who are physically unable to walk find their ability to dance. We've found very routinely that people who can't speak can sing. We've found people who can't remember who their spouse is remember all of the lyrics to the Hank Williams anthology."
While the experience may be temporary for the seniors, Staley said, it's permanent for the teens participating in the program and can help change the perception of elders to teenagers, especially in light of the number of elders afflicted by Alzheimer's to nearly triple by 2050.
"It brings us back to our commonality, the thing that makes us all human and how we are all connected by music," Staley said.
Adam Borowiak, Yorkville High School junior and president of the music honor society, and Nathan Luna, also a YHS junior and music honor society member, danced and sang along to songs on the playlist created for Juanita Cumpian. Cumpian said the two boys that visited her were funny and that she'll think of them every time she listens to the playlist and headphones she gets to keep.
"I had a good time with them," Cumpian said.
As the playlist played along, Luna said, Cumpian started to open up more about what it was like for her growing up in Carrizo Springs, Texas. He said she talked more about how her older brother would teach her how to dance, how she used to go to dances and how her family would all dance together.
Luna said Cumpian was still active and would talk to him and Borowiak when they first met a few weeks prior.
"But just the difference from [then and] when she had heard the music, she was super energetic and even more talkative," Luna said. "It was just awesome."
Borowiak said it was cool to see the seniors have fun and the experience bringing back some older memories. He said it drove the point home that human interactions and connections with people are so important and that he would want the public to remember that for their own loved ones who might be facing similar memory issues.
"If we can make those through music, then I think that's amazing," Borowiak said.
Not only is it important for students to have that kind of awareness and community involvement, Vriezen said, but the project ties in with the music department's goal to help students create a lifelong relationship with music.
“I think it shows just how powerful it really is,” Vriezen said.