Magical Music Program Strikes a Chord with People with Memory Loss

Bob Perkowitz, age 88, has a song in his heart every Thursday afternoon. That’s when he joins his wife of 60-plus years, Jean, for Songs by Heart at Aspired Living of Prospect Heights, located at 708 North Elmhurst Road.

“It’s the highlight of the week for both of us,” said Bob, who lives in Prospect Heights while Jean lives at the memory support community, where Bob faithfully visits daily. “Jean doesn’t respond to much, but Songs by Heart really lights her up. She sings and claps. It’s wonderful to see.”

Songs by Heart is a life-enriching program offered by Aspired Living’s A Knew Day® memory support program for those with Alzheimer’s or other forms of memory loss in which a professional singer leads an interactive sing-along with a piano accompaniment. What’s unique are the singers, who are trained in therapeutic techniques such as mirroring, making direct eye contact and holding hands and use these methods to connect and reignite the spark inside each resident.

At a recent program, Aspired Living’s A Knew Day® residents gathered in a circle with singer Diana Stoic Richardson at the center. Bob and other guests joined the group, including regulars Sandy, resident Laurie’s twin sister, who said, “We like to see all the people brighten up and smile. We’re both big fans.”

While belting out standards such as “What a Wonderful World” and “Love is Here to Stay,” Diana worked the room with the gusto of a Vegas showman, yet with much more sincerity. She knelt in front of a seemingly disengaged woman, took her hands and serenaded her without missing a beat. Remarkably, the woman made eye contact and responded by swaying and singing along note for note.

Energized by the memories the songs evoke and the personal attention, Songs by Heart participants spontaneously sing along, clap their hands, wave colorful scarves to the beat and some even stand to dance!  The residents come out of their shells and to truly engage on intellectual, physical, social, spiritual and emotional levels.

“The extraordinary way the singer personally connects with each and every person to make them feel loved and accepted is what makes this music therapy program unlike any others,” said A Knew Day® Memory Support Manager Megan McInerney. “The songs ignite their souls while the singer touches their hearts. It’s magical to see.”

The positive response is backed by research, which suggests that listening to or singing songs can provide emotional and behavioral benefits for people with dementia. In Alzheimer’s disease, music-evoked emotions and memories are often preserved and listening to music, especially familiar songs, can at least temporarily reduce anxiety, enhance self-awareness and, in some cases, encourage verbal communication.

The benefits are evident, and, after the 45-minute sing-along, the magic can linger. “I know it will likely be a good day for Jean,” said Bob on a Songs by Heart day. “Her good mood usually lasts for hours. She can usually communicate better and seems clearer and more present for the rest of the day.” 

“I just love singing to the residents,” says Songs by Heart singer Diana. In between songs Diana, a wife and mother from Mount Prospect, peppers in personal anecdotes about her family to promote conversation and a personal relationship with the residents, who clearly adore her.  “The music gives them a space to feel their emotions and embrace their memories in a very therapeutic way.”

A Knew Day® Memory Support is Aspired Living’s groundbreaking approach to memory support that combines all the comforts of home with an innovative program proven to rehabilitate the brain. Songs by Heart is one example of how A knew Day® reignites the spark inside to help those with memory impairment become engaged and communicative again. Songs by Heart is also offered by Aspired Living of Westmont’s A Knew Day memory support, located at 407 W. 63rd Street.