Music can lift the spirit in incredible ways.

Just ask Ridgefielder Janice Pauly, who created a music and memory program to assist Alzheimer’s patients at a local nursing home last summer.

After a year in service, residents, staff and families at the home have all praised the effects of the creative program that helps to calm residents suffering from memory loss — and stimulate their learning.  

Pauly told The Press she begins the process by discovering the musical tastes of patients before tailoring iPod playlists for the individual.

She wrote a state grant to get a computer designated for music storage at the facility, then collected hundreds of old CDs around town before downloading the track lists onto the computer.

“This program was important to me for three reasons: First, my mother died of Alzheimer’s and would have benefitted from a program like this,” Pauly said. “Secondly, I was part of the Scott Alzi Animals for Kid’s Program in town which took knowledge of Alzheimer’s into the schools, and still does.   

“Thirdly, I have a good friend, Judy Barniak, who works in an Alzheimer’s unit in Cortland, N.Y., and uses her own music to help her residents,” said Pauly, who taught physical education at East Ridge Middle School and now volunteers at the recreation center.

“The magic I saw her work with her music, along with seeing the documentary Alive Inside, really stimulated my interest.”   

Training

While Pauly was working on the technical part of the program — CDs, computers, and individual iPod playlists — the staff at the health care center were being trained in how to use the music and memory program by researchers and professors from Brown University in Rhode Island.    

“I can’t say enough about the training we received from the staff at Brown,” said one staff member who works at the facility, which didn’t want to reveal its name for this piece.

“We had intensive training first and then these people came back regularly for three months to mentor us,” the staff member continued. “They were truly looking to solve our problems and learn more about using music to enhance the minds of residents with memory loss. Their research is helping to show that music can be an alternative to medication when caring for dementia residents.”  

The facility’s staff has seen changes in the residents when they have their iPods on and are listening to their music.

“We have one man who usually has no animation at all, totally burst out in song and move around as he listens to his playlist,” the staff member said. “For some residents, we need two support staff to work with them.  

“But now, when listening to their play list on their iPod, they need the assistance of only one support staff member.

“In fact, many who had trouble sleeping, now go to sleep through listening to the music of their choice. Music is a magical link to the past of the patient and brings them great eternal joy.”

It can happen anywhere

Pauly said she can see individual families developing a program of their own for family members with Alzheimer’s.   

By collecting the family member’s favorite song selections from the past and making personal playlists for iPods, these patients would be getting the same service they would at the nursing home.   

Not only has Pauly started the Music and Memory Program in Ridgefield, but she has long been associated with the Kid’s for Alzheimer’s Program in the schools. She has helped to organize various events, and been the business manager for the youth program and developed its website.  

For her lifetime of volunteerism and service to the Ridgefield community, Pauly will receive a service award from the Ridgefield Old Timer’s Association at its banquet on Oct. 14 at 6 p.m. at St. Mary’s Hall.

Robin Matthews from the Parks and Recreation Department will be presenting Ms. Pauly with her award. Tickets for the dinner are $55 and funding goes toward athletic scholarships for high school students.   

For more information and to get your tickets go to the Ridgefield Old Timer’s website.