Lawrence M. Walsh
“Music replays the past memories, awaken our forgotten worlds and make our minds travel.” ― Michael Bassey Johnson
JOLIET -- Music can pick you up, bring back memories and get your feet tapping or get you dancing in your seat. In some cases it can help you forget pain.
At Sunny Hill Nursing Home of Will County, residents are using personal “music players,” as they refer to their iPods, for all of those reasons as part of the county-owned facility’s Music and Memory Project.
Local participation in the national movement was kick-started in large part by a more than $5,000 donation from KSKJ, the American Slovenian Catholic Union, Lodge No. 2, which held a fund-raiser in May 2015 to benefit the program.
“It’s the most rewarding thing ever,” said Kristine Smith of the Social Services Department, who oversees the program, working with residents and their families over several days to choose the music that will mean the most to the listener. “If they’re able, they tell me what songs they like.”
The pathways in the brain that remember music are the last ones to wither; researchers have found even people with dementia will perk up after listening to music from their past, often remembering – at least temporarily – people and feelings they otherwise can’t recall.
Smith said 10 residents currently have the iPods with headphones. Some residents have asked for it; others have been recommended by the staff. “We use it a lot for mood.” If a resident is depressed or bored, music can help.
“Once it’s loaded, it’s all theirs. They can listen to it any time they want to.”
Three shared their stories about how music keeps them moving to their own beat.
Dorothy Kovach, 93, grew up in Chicago and most recently before coming to Sunny Hill had lived with her daughter, Susan Kovach, in Joliet. With generations of musicians in the family, she’d grown up with the sounds of classical music.
“My family is full of music,” said Kovach, herself a pianist in her younger days. “I was so hungry for my music.”
She said she no longer remembers composers or song titles, but the music brings back the feelings.
“I’m in seventh heaven when I’ve got classical music going,” she said.
Kovach gave a big sigh, nodding along to the music, and smiled as she listened.
“When (music has) been so much a part of your life, you miss it.”
Ray Mirelez, 77, of Joliet has been a Sunny Hill resident for a little more than a year. He’d been there about three months when he saw other residents with the iPods and asked how to get one.
“I have all these CDs, but no CD player,” he said.
His music player is loaded with country music. “I thought that was the only kind (of music),” he said. “I’m a hillbilly from Oklahoma.”
Not just any country music, he said, the old country music, like Merle Haggard.
“I don’t really have a favorite singer. It’s the songs.
He and Smith went through his CD collection, picking out his favorite tunes. He listens every day.
“Some songs bring back memories – some good, some bad. (Listening) picks me up.”
Connie Nuzzo, 83, grew up in Chicago and came to Sunny Hill thanks to a brother in Frankfort.
“I like Big Band (music),” said Nusso. “I grew up with that. I don’t like the music of today; it’s jumping around music.”
Judy Garland, Doris Day, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis are some of her favorite singers and, oh, yes, Johnny Mathis.
She’s been to many Mathis performances, “He gives a real long concert.”
She loved going to concerts, and also saw Judy Garland and the King himself, Elvis Presley. Every few months, she asks Smith to change some of the singers. She listens every day and sometimes into the night.
Nuzzo uses the music to combat the sadness she sometimes feels. When she moved to Sunny Hill, she could walk. Now she is in a wheelchair.
She also finds music is almost as good as medication to fight the pain of the neuropathy in her legs.
Smith said she has seen Nuzzo, in severe pain and two hours to go before her next pill, put her headphones on and forget the throbbing until she can get her medication.
Their iPod playlist “is definitely a work in progress,” Smith said. “It’s real exciting for (the residents).”
Sunny Hill Nursing Home of Will County, 421 Doris Ave., is led by Administrator Karen Isberg Sorbero and is under the office of Will County Executive Larry Walsh.
For more information, go to www.willcountyillinois.com and look for Sunny Hill. Sunny Hill is also on Facebook.
To help, donations of new or gently used iPods, as well as iTunes gift cards are accepted. Cash donations should be directed to The Friends of Sunny Hill Inc.
To learn about the Music and Memory program, go to http://musicandmemory.org/.