Musical melodies help bring back memories for seniors
Houston Chronicle, Lindsay Peyton, HOUSTON, TX, November 13, 2014 - Every week, residents at Silverado The Woodlands Memory Care Community gather for a trip back in time - thanks to the power of music.
Symphonic melodies and swing tunes fill the common area of the center. Whether it's classical music by Mozart, Beethoven, Strauss or other masters, or popular standards from days gone by, the compositions stir residents to sway, tap their feet and even stir up a few memories.
Guiding residents on this musical journey is aficionado Bill Buckley.
When Buckley became a resident of Silverado in 2011, he brought with him an extensive collection of music.
"I have thousands of CDs and records," he said. "Since I was in grammar school, I belonged to a record club that sent you music. I kept it all."
Buckley said he always loved music. He was a drum major in his high school band and played clarinet in the band at the University of California at Berkeley.
His favorite composers are Mozart, Beethoven and Tchaikovsky - but he also likes folk and pop.
"I really like anything that has melody and that isn't too loud," Buckley said. "The thing that interests me about symphonic music is that it has a history to it."
He enjoys researching composers and the history surrounding the symphonic pieces.
After moving to Silverado, Buckley decided to lead a class and share his knowledge with other residents.
"I'm still at a point where I like to do complicated things," he said.
Buckley's class meets twice a week. He gathers a selection of songs - and prepares a few talking points. He caters his presentation to the residents who may be more affected by dementia or memory loss.
"I try to pick stuff that I can relate to people," he said. "I can get to the level that people understand. We have a lot of instrumental stuff, a lot of melodic pieces. We try to have fun with it."
For residents who are more on Buckley's level, the classes can provide mental stimulation.
"I try to give them something that is a little more challenging," Buckley said.
Already, he has developed a regular following. Usually, around 25 residents attend his classes.
"They come because it's an activity, it's something going on," he said. "They come out of curiosity. I just put it together, and I enjoy it."
To an audience whose memories are fading, the music classes hold a special place, said Renee Mitchell, director of resident engagement.
She said Buckley's music presentations are highlights of the week for a number of residents.
"We realized his love for music," Mitchell said. "We thought it would be good for him to lead a music class."
She explained that some of the residents will comment and ask Buckley questions, while others just smile and enjoy the tunes.
"One of the things I've realized is that music is something you never forget," Mitchell said. "It really does touch a place in your soul. Music brings back memories and makes you feel good."
She explained that keeping residents engaged is a top priority at Silverado. Part of the center's mission is to provide activities and opportunities to socialize for residents, providing a higher quality of life in assisted living for those with memory loss.
For example, the center hosts a happy hour every Friday complete with live music, dancing, appetizers, beer and wine. There are art classes, exercise routines and poker games.
"We just have so many things we do," Mitchell said. "We really try to tap into the things that residents enjoyed before they were diagnosed with a disease - and we build engagements around those things."
Silverado residents also go on regular outings to museums, the Kemah Boardwalk and sports games.
There are several resident who like to share their skills with others.
"They make blankets for cancer patients and dog treats for animal shelters," Mitchell said. "They also bake goodies for the fire department."
She added that providing an environment where residents retain a sense of independence and dignity is important - and said that they should continue enjoying the things that have always been important to them.
With someone like Buckley, his passion is contagious. Mitchell said that when he shares his music collection, everyone in the center benefits.
"He plays the pieces, and then he stops and talks about the music and the composer," she said. "It's a very enjoyable experience for everyone."