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.