Whittier Tech Students Implement Music Therapy Program for Alzheimer’s Patients

Allasandra Thompson (left), Emily Shal and Larissa Havey met with Wingate resident Lucy Meade, who told the girls she likes love songs. (Courtesy photograph)

Residents at Haverhill’s Wingate Nursing Home are sharing memories through music thanks to three enterprising students from Whittier Regional Vocational Technical High School.

Inspired by the “Alive Inside” documentary that follows Dan Cohen’s work to combat memory loss in Alzheimer’s patients using music, juniors Allasandra Thompson, Larissa Havey and Emily Shal have replicated Cohen’s efforts at Wingate.

Cohen, the founder of the nonprofit Music & Memory organization, trained Haverhill’s Thompson and Amesbury’s Havey and Shal over the summer and the students officially brought the program to Wingate last week.

“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.

Five Wingate residents will take part in the first phase of the project. Family members of those suffering from dementia will meet with the group to compile a list of songs from the resident’s childhood to be used in therapy. The playlist will then be downloaded onto an iPod staff can use a way to communicate with residents.

“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,” Health Occupations teacher Jane Moskevitz said.

While the Whittier Tech students secured much of their own funding, the Wingate is holding an iPod drive to ensure that the unit’s 42 residents are all able to take advantage of the music therapy program.