Students use music to improve quality of life for dementia patients

July 12, 2018

MPS summer academy students, led by Raymond Roberts, choral director at Milwaukee High School of the Arts, embarked on a music appreciation journey this June that is culminating in a service project to assist dementia patients.

Over four weeks, students explored and researched the origins of music genres such as rock ‘n’ roll and the blues. They listened to top songs dating back to the 1950s and compiled a list of more than 1,000 songs. During their research, they recognized songs that were favorites of their elders.

The group then completed a Virtual Dementia Tour facilitated by Bashir Easter, Dementia Care Specialist, Milwaukee Department on Aging, and were trained on Music and Memory by Julie Hyland, Director of Student Programs.

A Virtual Dementia Tour allows participants to experience dementia through a guided simulation in which vision, hearing, and touch are impaired. This experience develops empathy and understanding for those living with the disease. The students expressed frustration and disorientation as they were asked to complete tasks with their senses disabled.

Students also learned about the positive effects of music for individuals living with a cognitive impairment, such as dementia. The Music and Memory program helps reconnect individuals with their memories through the use of personalized digital playlists. Every individual has a soundtrack of their life, and rediscovering it can provide triggers to the memories that go along with it.

The students interviewed eleven community members to create personalized playlists. The overall response from the students, the participants, and their caregivers was extremely positive. Participants were singing, tapping their feet, and actively engaging with others. The students and caregivers experienced the power of music firsthand.

MPS will offer free Summer Academy from July 2 to 27; enrollment is still open. All children who are city of Milwaukee residents are eligible. Child care is available at some sites; fees may apply. MPS also offers a number of camp experiences and dozens of recreation programs through the Milwaukee Recreation Department. These options allow students to catch up, get ahead, or just have fun learning in a safe environment.

The summer program has many community partners to deliver art, coding, music, theater, outdoor education, STEM, and other offerings. Field trips to local museums and nature centers will allow students to discover their community. Summer enrichment camps allow students to explore new ideas and learn new skills.

Registration for elementary and middle school students is available online through the MPS Parent Portal. Families who need to create an account or need assistance can visit MPS Central Services at 5225 W. Vliet St., or phone 414-475-8159.