Early in January 2015, I began working with Music & Memory, after having watched the movie, Alive Inside, and completing the training webinar series. On the Palouse, Music & Memory was first started at Pullman Regional Hospital, with PRH Patient Support Volunteers implementing the program at Avalon Care Center. This success was quickly followed by programs beginning at Circles of Caring Adult Day Services and Friends of Hospice. The year 2015 was a year of tremendous growth!

The initial success of this program was obvious at the outset when I first began providing personalized music to patients in my role as Pullman Regional Hospital Patient Support Volunteer (PSV). I can still remember the first patient with whom I worked. Staff requested that I do what I could to help this patient. His wife was noticing a significant change in his mood during their visits.

When I first approached him, he stared at me and I thought he was going to bite my head off. His look told me not to bother him. I sat so that we could be at eye level and then spoke gently about music. Did he like music? I wanted to help put together some music that he might enjoy. What kind of music did he prefer? Did he have any favorite artists or songs?

There was a rather long silence and then he quietly uttered “jazz”. I listed off a few names of jazz artists that we have in our music collection. He would nod or shake his head in response. With little to go on, I built a playlist of jazz music, loaded the list onto an iPod Shuffle and gave him a headset to try out this music. I wish that all of you could see how wide his eyes opened as he first heard the music! I can just imagine how this music filled his soul and comforted him taking him back to an earlier, happier time of his life.

During my next shift, hearing positive reports from staff, I checked in with him. His mood was changed for the better. He was talking more and staff was finding him more accepting of help. His wife noticed the behavior change, too. As I sat with him and we talked about the music on his iPod, he began to give me more names of musicians that he enjoyed. He told me that he used to play jazz trumpet in a pick-up band when he was in the military. Eventually I learned that he enjoyed various jazz clarinetists, too. And he introduced me to Jack Teagarden – Father of Jazz Trombone. It was such a delight for me to be able to purchase the music that he requested knowing that offering this music was rekindling memories for him.

One day, I saw his wife sitting with him in the hallway, both drinking coffee and she crocheting. As part of our Music & Memory supplies, we had several cable splitters available for use. A cable splitter allows 2 people to listen to the same iPod by connecting 2 headphones to the splitter. I gathered the cable and asked them if I could borrow the iPod for a moment in order to set it up in such a way that they both could listen to his playlist. What a joyful moment that was when she could listen to the music that had her husband so entranced. She told me, “I didn’t know he liked that kind of music. I’ve never heard it before!”

The following week, she told me that she thought she should get an iPod of her own and with Christmas coming up, she planned to do just that. I told her that if she got an iPod and brought in some CDs of music that she wanted to hear, I would load up the music for her. She did that. For Christmas, she bought an iPod and brought in several music CDs for me to build into her playlist. From then on, you could count on finding both of them listening to their iPods, sitting in the sun-filled hallway, he drinking coffee and she crocheting!

Months later, as his health declined, it was time to change the music from upbeat jazz into something more calm and peaceful. He was no longer getting out of bed. I set up a playlist of quiet music, playing over an external speaker, that helped to create a calming and soothing space around him as well as any visitors to his room. His wife would sit vigil at his bedside, crocheting and enveloped in the peaceful music.

Guest blog from Ginny Hauser

Continued next week