iPods for Alzheimer's

By Brendan O'Brien | Middle School, Student Life

Armed with old electronics, the students descended into the nursing home basement. They were eager to help the residents they’d soon meet, but a certain hesitancy still swirled around their visit – could something as simple as a song really assist individuals with reclaiming pieces of their past?

This spring, under the watchful eye of Pat Badger, Advisor to the Head of School for Arts & Equity, 8th graders from The Prairie School visited St. Monica’s Senior Living to find out.

The project, iPods for Alzheimer’s, saw students utilizing music to help residents afflicted with memory loss or other cognitive and physical conditions experience feelings and emotions from years gone by.

Conceived by Badger and fellow Racinian Lois Solberg, the idea for iPods was born out of Alive Inside, an award-winning film that documents the fight Dan Cohen, founder of the nonprofit Music & Memory, wages against America’s failing healthcare system while simultaneously highlighting the healing power of music.

Prairie students spearheaded every aspect of the project from talking with residents about their musical tastes, to creating personal playlists, to hosting bake sale fundraisers, to prepping donated iPods.

The reward for their work? Seeing face after face light up when hearing the sounds of Johnny Cash or Billie Holliday or Louis Armstrong.

“Hearing their own music unlocks people in ways you can’t imagine,” Badger said in the April 20th Racine Journal Times article, Unlocking memories, one iPod at a time.

Bonnie Benes, Middle School Head, has enjoyed watching her students take ownership of the project.

“The power of meeting the needs of others can never be over-emphasized,” says Benes. “Our students are meaningfully immersed with this. They see the results when they spend time with the residents, and the impact of the partnership is beyond words. The most powerful lesson: the 8th grade students are entirely responsible for the success of this amazing undertaking.”

By Diya Mehra, Class of 2020 – Project Leader

When a group of us went to interview at St. Monica’s, I was told I would be interviewing Barb. She had recently suffered a stroke and so her hearing, understanding and response levels were hard to get and had to be treated with patience. Although at first I was nervous, I am so happy I got to interview Barb as she made my experience special and meaningful. As I showed her some of the music she liked, I could see the effect it had on her and how much one song helped her get into her past. I can only imagine what a whole playlist, based on her life, could do.

Music is a special key in this program. The music you listen to throughout your life defines where you are at that moment, and where you will go. Music can help people get over many things. When they listen to a special song, it can take them back in time and return memories they associate with a particular song or artist.

What makes Prairie’s project so interesting is that we are using students and youth. Using students to help people two generations their elders connects the community in a special way. It creates a platform that allows two groups of people to connect with things they have in common and help each other. I don’t know about others, but Barb will sometimes show up in my mind, and I will wonder about her. I hope that all the other students that take a part in this program give as much, and get as much as I have.