IPods give Yellowknife seniors a blast from the past

A new iPod takes Judy Moore back to her days jiggin' and reelin' in Inuvik, N.W.T., as part of a program that uses music to inspire memory in seniors living with dementia.

Music helps jog the memories of elderly people living with dementia

Tasia Walsh adjusts the headphones on Judy Moore of Inuvik, N.W.T., whose memories of life and family in Inuvik come back easily with a little Stompin' Tom. (Erin Brohman/CBC)

When Tasia Walsh starts her shift at the dementia facility at Aven seniors' home in Yellowknife, she goes first to the person who looks most in need of some cheering up.

“Today Morris was sitting and eating his breakfast but he was paused — where his spoon wasn't quite going to his mouth. And he was stuck. Frozen,” the recreation co-ordinator says.

Judy Moore of Inuvik, N.W.T., listens to Stompin' Tom songs that remind her of home, her mother, her kids and jigging and dancing. (Erin Brohman/CBC)
“I went over to him and touched his shoulder and I said 'Hey Morris, would you like to listen to some music?' He said ‘Oh yes!’”

In a program inspired by a memory through music program that began in the United States, and the latest scientific research, recreation staff are using iPods to jog the memories of seniors living with dementia.

Walsh asks staff, families and the residents themselves for song suggestions for their customized iPod playlists.

In one-on-one sessions held through the week, she places the headphones over their ears.  

Then, Walsh sits with them — or dances with them if they want to.

Morris Jordan used to love driving around Yellowknife in his truck, but now he uses a wheelchair and doesn't say much.

On the playlist? ACDC and Stompin’ Tom Connors.

That, and memories of road tunes.

“His eyes opened up and he could concentrate on finishing his meal, and had something to keep him going," says Walsh.

"A positive influence in his head… because that's where music is. To motivate him to continue moving. To bring him out of himself.”

Stompin' Tom's music prompts different memories in Judy Moore. A turn at the iPod takes her back to her family in Inuvik, N.W.T., and her days of jigging and reeling. 

Kate Drexler, Aven’s recreation supervisor, says people with dementia have trouble forming new memories, but can still retain the old.

“There's basically a hub where music, memory and emotion meet," Drexler says.

"So what happens is you bring the music and it allows people like Judy to recall memories, and with Dora, the music reminds her of when her husband was with us and played the fiddle for her.”

Aven Manor is still hoping for more iPods and volunteers to help with the program. Right now, all 53 residents are sharing one.

Tasia Walsh sits with Morris Jordin at the Aven home in Yellowknife. Stompin' Tom Connors takes him back to his days driving a truck through town. (Erin Brohman/CBC)


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