WYOCENA — Meet Warren.
He probably won’t greet you. A resident of the Columbia Health Care Center, Warren struggles with dementia, and rarely says much or makes eye contact.
Then, CHCC activity assistant Kelly Lentz brings Warren “his music” — an iPod Shuffle with headphones, programmed with tunes that mean something to Warren.
When Lentz turns on the music, Warren not only speaks, but also joins her in song.
In a cavern, in a canyon, excavating for a mine/dwelt the miner, forty-niner and his daughter Clementine ….
Members of the Columbia County Board committee that oversees CHCC met Warren on Tuesday via a video clip — in fulfillment of the committee’s request, made seven months ago, for a progress report on Music and Memory.
Lentz and her colleague Stephanie Kleist are certified in Music and Memory, an experimental program in which people with dementia are given access to music, in the hope that the music will trigger memory, responsiveness and engagement with others.
That hope is fulfilled at CHCC every day.
“Musical awakenings,” said Lentz, “are definitely happening here at Columbia Health Care Center.”
Last fall, CHCC was chosen as one of 100 care centers in Wisconsin — and the only care center in Columbia County — to receive a federal grant, through the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, to study the effects of familiar music on people with dementia.
In January, Lentz said, 15 CHCC residents were given iPod Shuffle electronic music players, loaded with music that the resident (or the resident’s family) identified as having special meaning to the individual.
The candidates for the study are primarily people with moderate to severe dementia, most of whom take prescribed medication to alleviate the effects of dementia or anxiety.
“We’re finding some very positive results here,” Lentz said. “Music revives the brain.”
In addition to those first 15 iPods, nine more were issued to other residents, including some who are or were in their waning days of life.
Visitors, staff and volunteers can tell which residents are participating in Music and Memory by the musical notes that mark the room doors of participants.
When the CHCC committee first heard about Music and Memory in November, they saw a video of a man named Henry — a nursing home resident in another state — who became animated and communicative after listening to songs from his favorite musician, Cab Calloway.
Since then, Lentz said, CHCC has videotaped its own version of Henry.
Her name is Elsie Schliessman. She’s 86. Left to herself, she spends her day in her wheelchair, with her head down and her eyes closed.
But give her some music (on Tuesday, it was the patriotic anthem “America,” which starts with “My country, ‘tis of thee …”), and she not only engages in a game of catch-the-balloon with other CHCC residents in the Birch Boulevard common room, but she also speaks to visitors.
“I have a daughter,” she said.
Kleist said Music and Memory “validates the person. It puts them in touch with who they were before.”
Stimuli such as television and the presence of other people, she said, often don’t connect with people who have dementia in the way that music does.
Committee member Kevin Kessler asked whether that connection continues when the residents aren’t listening to their music.
It definitely does, said CHCC Administrator Amy Yamriska.
One of the participants, she said, used to make inappropriate responses during the worship services offered at CHCC. But since she got her iPod, she now engages in the services.
“She holds her own bulletin, and responds to the music,” Yamriska said.
The effects of music sometimes include much more than open eyes, smiles and speech.
In the case of Evelyn — another CHCC resident who participates in Music and Memory — the music is, literally, moving.
Typically, she sits motionless in a wheelchair. But in a video shown to the committee, Evelyn began waving her arms in time with the music, as a choir director would, and sang along:
Glory, glory hallelujah!/Glory, glory hallelujah!/Glory, glory hallelujah!/His truth is marching on!