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Music brings back memories

Cathy Schutt | Jan 5, 2021

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Every time I hear the song Escapade by Janet Jackson, I can still complete the routine my friends and I performed in fourth grade. Ingrid Michaelson’s The Way I Am brings me back to my wedding day. And when Rick Springfield’s Jesse’s Girl plays, I am back on a bus to Colorado, going skiing with my church youth group from high school.

Music brings back memories—for everyone. That’s why we offer Music and Memory™ at Walker Methodist. Since 2014, we’ve been creating personalized playlists for residents living in our communities. These customized playlists are key: music in general does not have as many benefits as playing someone’s favorite song. Ralph’s story shows just how powerful music can be…

When Ralph’s caregivers first asked his family what his favorite music was, they were surprised to hear steel drums and reggae. Ralph had not been able to tell the team his favorite music, but a study done by Music and Memory determined the ages of 12 to 22 are most formative for music preferences. If someone is not able to share their favorite music, team members can look at top songs from the years they were those ages. Sometimes this works well, and sometimes it doesn’t. For example, Tom wasn’t able to tell us the team his favorite music either. So when they added popular music from his day, such as Lawrence Welk and Frank Sinatra, Tom threw his iPod in the garbage. Later we discovered classical music was his favorite genre. Once his playlist was filled with classical music, Tom would sit, close his eyes, and feel the music. Though we don’t know what memories classical sonatas and steel drum songs brought up for Tom and Ralph, they experienced peace and joy.

Some residents’ favorite songs are surprising, too. Esther, when moving into a Walker Methodist community, was asked about her favorite songs. Her list included Lady Gaga’s Poker Face! Even though she was 95 years old, Esther had a memory associated with the pop hit. She once dressed up as Lady Gaga for a Halloween party, where she won first place in the costume contest.

Memories of all kinds—new, old, happy, sad—are vital to our lives and beings. Whether or not residents can say those memories out loud, they keep them deep within their souls and make them who they are. And, sometimes, just the right song can bring them back to one of those happy memories.

Learn more about the power of music…