Joseph Khargie, program director at 4Life Foundation, and Sandy Griffin, resident program manager at Extendicare Guildwood, are partners for the music memory project in the retirement home.

Young DJs help seniors with music memory program

Playing music for dementia residents in long-term care brings back old memories

Music is like an unwritten diary we’ve all kept: there are always songs that remind us of those forgotten times.

That’s the theory behind the music memory program at the Extendicare Guildwood long-term care retirement home, says Sandy Griffin who came up with the idea.

Griffin, resident program manager at the home in the Guildwood Parkway area of Scarborough, recalls when she first discussed the idea with Joseph Khargie, program director for the 4Life Foundation.

“He was talking about the talent that his youth bring and together it was a wow moment like, ‘Okay, let’s do this.’”

4Life Foundation, whose aim is to encourage youth empowerment and community engagement, contributes to the music memory project by having young DJs come to the home and play music from the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s for residents with dementia. The DJs are from nearby high schools and participate in the DJ4Life program.

“I’ve always wanted youth to interact with seniors, but not at Easter and not at Christmas,” Khargie says. “We want to come in here and actually be committed.”

The program, which started on Sept. 12, has been a great success with the residents who take part in it. Griffin and Khargie agree they have seen an improvement in them.

“Actually, we had a resident with dementia who said, ‘I like that’,” Griffin says. “Like he was in a deep sleep and all of a sudden he woke out of it and said ‘I like that song.’”

Many of the songs played help awaken long-term memories of the residents’ school years or wherever they were at the time.

“The music just evokes a lot of memories from the past,” Griffin adds. “The same way it impacts us, it impacts them. It’s no different, even though they have dementia.”

Families of the residents get ecstatic when they hear about the progress and how the program is affecting the residents’ memories. One of the residents’ daughters was so excited about the program and her mother being part of it, that she found all of her mom’s old CDs so they could add them to the music program.

Khargie and his young DJs also gained a new perspective while working on this project. It happened when one of the residents was remembering her school days while they were playing Frank Sinatra’s song, Fly Me To The Moon and asking her questions about it.

“That hit me and I was like, ‘Wow, this is serious,’” Khargie says. “This music is actually doing something for them.”

So they played another song for her, which was Venus, by Frankie Avalon. It reminded her of being outside, and since it was cloudy she said that she wished she could wipe away the clouds so she could go outside to swing and be in the sun.

Both Griffin and Khargie want the music memory program to continue and expand to more patients. They say the program is not only helping the residents, but also helping the youth, who stay engaged in the community and off the streets.

“You know that you made a difference,” Griffin said. “Whatever you can do today to make a difference in someone’s life, it’s important that you do it.”