Elizabeth Newman

Growing up, it wasn’t considered a holiday season until either my sister or I played “Sleigh Ride” in our school orchestra. A few years ago, my husband celebrated “The 12 Days of Christmas” by handing me a new Christmas album each day leading up to Dec. 25. Part of these gems included the Bob Dylan and James Brown Christmas albums. If you haven’t heard them, you are missing out.

My love of specific types of Christmas music is one of the reasons I was thrilled to see a new case study once again showing the positive impact of personalized music playlists for residents in long-term care facilities.

Researcher Elizabeth M. Long, DNP, APRN, GNPBC, the JoAnne Gay DIshman School of Nursing at Lamar University, discusses an 82-year-old patient admitted to a facility with Alzheimer’s disease.

“Ms. D” wandered during the day and would become agitated after dinner, plus become verbally offensive, Long writes in the Annals of Long Term Care. The resident was given Seroquel for two years, and then in 2015 was placed in a Music and Memory Organization program. Funding was through a grant with the Texas Department of Aging and Disability.

A nursing student visited with Ms. D weekly for 10 weeks and together they listed to music via an iPod shuffle, Long reports. At first, the resident would interact with the student only for a few minutes and then say the student had to leave. Ms. D couldn’t communicate about her music tastes, but the student developed a personalized music list for her by researching the top-selling songs from when the resident was 16 to 30 years old. The resident remained wary, however.

Diana Ross saved the day, much as I imagine she often does in her everyday life.

“The first few songs were the Supremes, and she lit up like a Christmas tree! She was humming, tapping her toes, and periodically nodding at me,” the student reported in her journal.

During the seventh week, the resident listened to the Supremes, Aretha Franklin and a church choir, and after the headphones were removed, she began talking about where she had grown up and how she had worked in cafes, Long writes. The encounter was two hours long. In additional visits, the patient talked about her house and the street it was on and her younger brother.

Ultimately, Ms. D was able to start cleaning a table each evening, which calmed her agitation. She hadn’t received any antipsychotic medication in the past nine months at the time of publication.

There are many reasons this story is heartwarming, not the least of which is that we tend to think new solutions should have instantaneous effects. Turning on Bruce Springsteen via an iPod for a long-term care resident isn’t going to magically reverse his dementia. But in this case study, the student kept experimenting. Jazz and country music were unsuccessful, and then came the Supremes.

Second, let’s look at the cost benefits. Long-term care organizations have a reflex of saying, “I can’t afford it,” for something such as the Music and Memory program. But when you consider the literal cost of antipsychotics, the staff’s time of trying to coax recalcitrant residents out of their rooms, or the impact of verbal assaults on other residents or staff ….well, you tell me how much it’s worth to you to lessen all that.

Plus, there were smaller benefits. Ms. D will occasionally stay in an activity area during an activity, which she would never have done previously. Other students have shown how personalized music can lessen anxiety and depression and increase socialization.

Even if it’s not immediately possible to sign all your residents up for a personalized playlist, this holiday season does give an opportunity to ask if you can expand what is being piped through your facility.

Consider some James Brown or Darlene Love in your Christmas rotation of Frank Sinatra and traditional choral music — you might discover some newfound smiles of recognition and a resident who starts talking.

Follow Elizabeth @TigerELN.