Project connects patients with dementia to music that sparks memories

Friday, April 1, 2016

Duke medical students Kelly Ryan Murphy and Daniel Goltz and mentor Heidi White, MD, associate professor of medicine (Geriatrics), were recently recognized with a 2016 AMDA Foundation Quality Improvement and Health Outcome Award, which recognizes innovative programs that make a distinct impact on the quality of long-term care. In March, the team was recognized at AMDA’s annual symposium in Orlando, Florida, including presenting their project in an educational session.

The award was in recognition of Murphy and Goltz's research project "Connectcting Residents with Dementia to their Autobiographic Soundtrack with Personalized Music." Both Murphy and Goltz are North Carolina Albert Schweitzer Fellows.

“A person’s memories and their personality define their identity,” says Murphy. “Memory impairment has motivated me to become a physician, as I have long felt a vocation to serve those affected by dementia. Dementia has no stereotype, and calls no behavior or demographic its own—all persons are at risk of this devastating disease. Moreover, as a medical student, I was frustrated by the lack of treatment options for dementia, other than mildly helpful medications.”

As Albert Schweitzer Fellows, Murphy and Goltz teamed up to expand a program they launched last year to provide personalized music therapy to memory-impaired adults at Eno Pointe Assisted Living Center, improving well-being and enhancing quality of life. With feedback from the participants, staff, and families, the Fellows create titrated personalized music tracks downloaded onto iPods to connect patients with memories triggered by music cues. Volunteers and staff ensure patients have access to their playlists most days of the week.

“Music reaches the deepest parts of our soul in a way that even our strongest connections to this world—our family and friends—cannot,” explains Goltz. “An elderly person with no apparent memory or social responsiveness puts on her headphones and immediately recognizes the song she danced to at her wedding. Memories suddenly pour in, and she begins dancing and singing with happiness. For us, these types of responses have become common, and we have seen tiny iPod shuffles energize residents in a way no medication ever could.”

Murphy and Goltz have worked with fellow medical students to establish the program as an officially recognized organization at Duke, thus ensuring it will continue for the foreseeable future. With this group, Duke students Vinay Choksi and Kyle Freischlag were recently awarded a 2016-17 NC Schweitzer Fellowship to expand the program to patients in the long term care facility at the Durham VA. Through the efforts of their mentor Dr. White, their success has also inspired a similar program being developed by Duke’s geriatrics department at an inpatient hospital setting.

“Seeing the ripple effect of our project is incredibly rewarding because we worked to create one program, but it has inspired others to join the personalized music movement to develop new avenues of approach,” says Murphy. “The potential scope is beyond measure.” Read more.