Whittier Tech Students Use Music Therapy to Help Those with Alzheimer’s Disease

Left to right: Allasandra Thompson, Emily Shal, Wingate resident Lucy Meade, who told the girls she likes love songs, and Larissa Havey. (Courtesy Photo Whittier Tech)



HAVERHILL — Three health occupation students at Whittier Tech are using music therapy as a way to help patients with Alzheimer’s disease communicate with family and friends.

After watching “Alive Inside” — a film that follows Dan Cohen, founder of the nonprofit organization Music & Memory, as he works to combat memory loss in patients through the use of music — juniors Allasandra Thompson, of Haverhill, Larissa Havey, of Amesbury and Emily Shal, of Amesbury, wanted to replicate the process.

They contacted Cohen, and with his assistance, received training over the summer to implement the program at Wingate at Haverhill that involves using music to help residents with Alzheimer’s and dementia relive memories that were thought to be lost. On Feb. 14, the three friends spent a portion of their afternoon at Wingate to train staff and meet residents.

“Our goal is to for residents to experience and retain memories through music therapy, and at the same time to have their families see their loved ones have these memories and come to life,” Shal said.

In the first phase of the project, Wingate staff, along with Thompson, Havey and Shal, will work with five residents. Following the completion of training, family members of Wingate residents will meet with the group to assist with compiling a list of songs from their childhood to be used in the therapy. Once complete, the songs will be downloaded onto an iPod that will then be used as a resource tool for staff to help them communicate with patients and improve their quality of life.

“We know that as human beings we relate our identity to music,” said Health Occupations Teacher Jane Moskevitz. “We can’t cure Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, but through this program we can bring some relief to patients and give them a way to connect to the world again.”

To secure funding for training materials and to purchase iPods, Thompson, Havey and Shal held a fundraiser at Flatbread Company in Amesbury, where they raised $1,675. Wingate staff will also be holding an iPod drive to ensure that all 42 residents in the Alzheimer’s and dementia unit can partake in music therapy. The music in memory program at Wingate will also serve as the girls’ submission into the SkillsUSA competition this spring.

10 Responses to "Whittier Tech Students Use Music Therapy to Help Those with Alzheimer’s Disease"

  1. Suzanne Lyon   February 22, 2018 at 11:37 AM

    We certainly do relate our identity to music and it can help spark memories to remind people with dementia who they are. A tool proven useful is called a LifeSongs recordable scrapbook. It’s a portable memory book you can put 12 pages of photos in plus record 12 favorite songs. Go to LifeSongs.info to order.

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  3. Kathy Purcell   March 18, 2018 at 12:42 PM

    Wonderful article and work these students are doing to share the benefits of music with these older adults. However, what they are providing is a music listening program and NOT music therapy. From what I am reading, there is not a music therapist as part of this team and music therapy is not what is being provided. As a board certified music therapist, I applaud and encourage the use of music by everyone to help people but please use the terms correctly. According to the American Music Therapy Association (musictherapy.org), music therapy is, “Music Therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program.

    Music Therapy is an established health profession in which music is used within a therapeutic relationship to address physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of individuals. After assessing the strengths and needs of each client, the qualified music therapist provides the indicated treatment including creating, singing, moving to, and/or listening to music. Through musical involvement in the therapeutic context, clients’ abilities are strengthened and transferred to other areas of their lives. Music therapy also provides avenues for communication that can be helpful to those who find it difficult to express themselves in words. Research in music therapy supports its effectiveness in many areas such as: overall physical rehabilitation and facilitating movement, increasing people’s motivation to become engaged in their treatment, providing emotional support for clients and their families, and providing an outlet for expression of feelings.” Thank you– Kathy Purcell, MT-BC Director, Music Therapy Associates, LLC (www.MusicTherapyAssociates.com)

  4. Audrey Hausig   March 18, 2018 at 1:10 PM

    This is a lovely use of therapeutic music, but it is not music therapy. Music therapy employs clinical interventions within a therapeutic relationship with a board certified music therapist. Music therapists have at least a bachelor’s degree and many have a master’s degree.

  5. Brenna Chapman   March 18, 2018 at 1:36 PM

    Great but these are students, not Music Therapists. Please understand there is a difference. You wouldn’t say students leading exercise groups were doing physical therapy, would you? Please use correct terminology so as to not misrepresent and confuse people about what music therapy is.

  6. Jordan Lumley   March 18, 2018 at 2:21 PM

    Glad to see these students are seeing the benefits of music and how it can be effective, but it is not technically music therapy. Music therapists go through extensive clinical training and practice before receiving a board certification. Speaking as a music therapist, we are constantly advocating for our profession and working to distinguish music therapy from other music programs.

  7. Jasmine Grubb   March 18, 2018 at 2:38 PM

    This is not music therapy. Please fix the terminology in this article.

  8. Linda Lininger   March 18, 2018 at 3:26 PM

    Please research terms (“music therapy”) before using. This is how fake news gets started. Diligence is required of journalists/publishers to report correctly. In this article what is reported is not music therapy. See: http://www.musictherapy.org

  9. Linda Lininger   March 18, 2018 at 3:33 PM

    1. AMTA is unequivocal in stating that what is portrayed in the film is not clinical music therapy:


  10. Tania Gagner, MT-BC   March 18, 2018 at 4:55 PM

    As great as this is, what these students are doing is not Music Therapy. This is music listening program. Some issues that may arise with programs like this one with dementia and Alzheimer’s patients is at times they may not be able to verbalize that they do not like the music (that they may have liked even a few weeks ago), that the music is too loud/soft, the music may over-stimulate the patient, the song may bring up a bad/negative memory, – and these are just a few examples of things that a board certified music therapist is trained to monitor, document, and adjust the music/treatment plan to better suit the client. I hope that these students reach out to the American Music Therapy Association and to other universities such as Berklee College of Music (Boston, MA) who have music therapy programs in place, to learn about music therapy, and to perhaps collaborate with a board certified music therapist.