Stonehill students give gift of music, memory to Alzheimer’s patients

March 5, 2018


When Emily Damore ’19 of Abington, Massachusetts decided to volunteer at the Life Care Centers of America’s (LCCA) Soundtrack of Life program, she knew it would be a good experience for her resume. What she didn’t realize is that it would change her appreciation for music and her outlook on life.

Emily Damore
Emily Damore ’19

“Every time I plug in my earphones, and I walk across campus while listening to my favorite song, I am just like, ‘Wow, this one song, that I am listening to in this moment, could be a song that gives me one moment of clarity or personhood again years down the line.’”

Damore is a music and interdisciplinary studies double major. She plans to become a licensed music therapist and, in fact, has already started using music to heal.

She is one of 16 Stonehill College students who volunteer their time to Soundtrack of Life, a habilitation program for patients with Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia at LCCA’s West Bridgewater campus. Students receive four hours of training from the medical staff on how to work with patients with diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia, which destroy memory and other mental functions.

Habilitation Through Song

Associate professor of music Lisa Redpath forged the partnership between Stonehill and LCCA over a year ago. Music helped her mother have moments of clarity before she died from dementia.

“The music part of the brain is the last to be touched by dementia and Alzheimer’s,” said Redpath. “If we can light up that part of the brain, it can help them to become significantly more communicative.”

As volunteers, students work with patients, staff and their families to create custom playlists for each patient. Padded headphones are placed over their ears, eliminating distractions. They listen to the music for 30 minutes to an hour, and students record any behavioral changes in a binder after the session.

The music can have such an impact on the patient, it changes their mood or moves them to communicate, even if they’ve lost that ability.

“During that period of time, a lot of symptoms regress back,” said Damore. “You can almost see this dawn in their eyes when they remember who they are again. That is beautiful to see.”

Service Ingrained in Stonehill Tradition

You do not have to be a musician to volunteer with Soundtrack of Life. Students can contribute as much time as their schedule allows.

“Every minute we give is a minute of changed life for somebody,” said Redpath. “We’re giving the patient the opportunity and ability to tap into the brain’s elasticity, through musical memories, to recall things. That is a huge gift. That is our gift.”

“With the Soundtrack of Life program, I have found music has a much deeper connection to the human experience than I ever thought possible,” said Zach Connelly ’18, a visual performing arts major with a music concentration. He interns at LCCA as an activities assistant and volunteers with Soundtrack of Life. “This experience has showed me how powerful music is. Anytime you can share music with another individual, it’s a very powerful thing.”

Damore spends at least one hour each week dancing with patients and connecting though music.

“Sometimes people cry,” said Damore. “Sometimes it is from sadness but also from overwhelming happiness of being able to recall memories. I can only imagine how wonderful that must feel if you don’t have that ability all the time.”

Adds Redpath, “Music is in all of us. It is a natural thing, and because we, as a campus community, are so giving, it is in our nature. That is why we are here at Stonehill. It is amazing. It will change the patient’s life, the lives of the patient’s family members, the caregiver’s life and the student’s life as well.”

The documentary Alive Inside, which won the Sundance Film Festival ‘Audience Award’ in 2014, tells the story of this national music therapy initiative using footage of patients who are habilitated through music. There is a copy available at the MacPhaidin Library. If you are interested in volunteering with Soundtrack of Life, contact Lisa Redpath at lredpath@stonehill.edu.