Sarnia-Lambton researchers want to probe program’s impact on those with dementia

Carl Hnatyshyn, Postmedia Network | December 16, 2017

Since the Alzheimer Society of Sarnia-Lambton launched its Mindful Music program in 2015, hundreds of seniors suffering from dementia have had their memories sparked, their depression momentarily lifted and anxieties temporarily alleviated because of the program’s music.

The society is now teaming with researchers from Lambton College to measure the program’s impact and to find ways to make it more effective.

To that end, the Alzheimer Society and college are looking for six to 10 volunteers from Lambton County – individuals who have not yet participated in the Mindful Music program – to take part in a five-month study that will allow researchers to take a preliminary look at the benefits of dementia-sufferers listening to music.

In the two-plus years since the program’s inception over 260 people have already participated in Mindful Music, said program coordinator Vanessa Barnes.

The reaction of people suffering from dementia listening to old music has been nothing short of astonishing, she said.

“It’s just been amazing,” she said. “Listening to these personalized playlists helps to spark memories, which it has, and we’ve also found that the music helps alleviate anxiety and help with depression as well.

“Aside from that it’s pure enjoyment for them, too,” Barnes added. “Once they hear that music, people are up dancing, dancing in their chairs, singing, they’re tapping their toes and snapping their fingers. It’s pretty neat and it’s a way for them to connect as well. We have volunteers in some of the long-term care homes and they spend one-on-one time with some of the residents there, and it makes a big, big difference in the way that they feel.

“Music sparks the emotion that then sparks the memory,” Barnes continued. “Some people who haven’t heard a song in a long time – especially, we’ve found, church music and gospel songs – that tends to start people singing and spark memories. You know, they used to attend church every week many years ago and once they hear the music, something happens. The memories come back of that particular time in their lives.”

After hearing so many positive stories from those involved in the program, Alzheimer Society CEO Melanie Bouck said the society’s board of directors decided to investigate why Music Matters has been so successful and how to make it more effective.

“We have these great anecdotes from Vanessa and from our clients and other people involved in the program,” she said. “And one of the mandates of the Alzheimer’s Society of Sarnia-Lambton is to provide money for research, so the board decided that part of that spending should go into looking at the Mindful Music project, seeing what we could do to reinforce that it was a valuable and validated program.

“So we decided to partner with Lambton College and Prof. Nicole Domonchuk, just feeling that if we can validate the program in some way, we could make it more attractive to funders or grants, because it isn’t a funded program, so we do have to make applications for grants to keep it running and use our fundraising dollars,” Bouck continued. “We were very fortunate to get some money from the Sarnia Community Foundation this past fall, which allowed us to purchase iPods with that money.”

Beginning in January, researchers will monitor a group of volunteer participants to gather empirical evidence about the program, Domonchuk said.

“What we’re hoping to do is recruit a few (participants) to agree to take part in the research project,” she said. “That will involve having somebody come out to their home a few times a week, every week, for a couple of hours. Our goal is to try to collect some more scientific-type evidence to support the great impact that this program is having.

“As Melanie said, there are lots of great anecdotes and I was able to go out with Vanessa a couple of times and I saw some really amazing responses by people to the music,” Domonchuk continued. “So we’re hoping to formalize that a little bit more, to be able to conduct some measures with people, to have them report to us in a more formal way. We want to answer some questions: How is this impacting on their quality of life? How are they managing at home? Whether this is helpful at particular times of day, concerns about the program that they may have in their home.”

The goal of collecting all the data will be to help better deliver it to others, Domonchuk said.

“The idea of the research project is that this is kind of a first step, a pilot, preliminary look to see what we know right now and what might we do to maximize the impact of the program going forward.” she said. “For this research program, we’re looking for people in the community. The program has been picked up on really well in the long-term care facilities, so the people that we’re hoping to have participate in the project are people living at home.”

To participate in the Mindful Music research project, contact the Alzheimer Society at 519-332-4444 or email Vanessa Barnes at

Original article