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Fox Chapel students collecting iPods to help elderly residents with memory ailments

Tawnya Panizzi

When Fox Chapel resident Lloyd Stamy Jr. got involved with the Music & Memory program, he hoped his mother would benefit by listening to an iPod with a song list from her career as a local musician in the 1940s.

“Alzheimer's is a word my mom wouldn't let us use two years ago,” Stamy said. “She insisted that she was only getting forgetful.

“Little did we know that the best response was right under our nose, and something she'd enjoyed her entire life — music.”

Stamy said it has made all the difference for his mother, a Longwood at Oakmont resident who participates in the Music & Memory program. Stamy, a retired investment adviser, is working with Fox Chapel Area High School students to help others enjoy the benefits of music.

The high school's music department is collecting gently used and new iPods through April 8. The public is encouraged to drop off iPods from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the high school along Field Club Road.

Erin Butkovic, science teacher and director of student activities, said the collection opened a dialogue.

“I don't think the kids realized that older people would enjoy listening to music to help trigger memories,” Butkovic said.

She said the program also teaches the value of recycling. “Instead of having those old iPods collect dust in a drawer somewhere, you can give them to someone who is going to get so much out of it,” she said.

Music & Memory is a nonprofit organization that works to help people with cognitive and physical challenges.

Through the program, professionals in nursing homes are trained to compile personalized music playlists, which can tap deep memories, said Melissa Tomko, administrator at Presbyterian SeniorCare- Woodside Place and former recreation services director at Longwood at Oakmont.

Tomko has witnessed what she called amazing results from the program, including smiling, crying, relaxation and alertness.

“One resident has tearful moments and we noticed that she engages, smiles, dances, and (has) decreasing restless behavior instantly when she listens to her specific playlist,” Tomko said. “This resident is non-verbal most of the time, but when asked if she wants her music, she will shake her head and say ‘music.'”

Another resident who likes to stay in her room started dancing and socializing with others after participating in the music program, Tomko said.

Lisa Fischetti, senior director of communications at Presbyterian SeniorCare, which includes Longwood at Oakmont, appreciates the collection and said the iPods will have a far-reaching impact on patients' health.

The more devices collected, the more people who can simultaneously participate in an individualized program, she said.

“We like to customize the iPods. I might like country and you might like opera,” she said. “Different things stimulate different people, and this simple collection can be transformative in people's lives.”

Tawnya Panizzi is a staff writer for the Tribune-Review. Reach her at 412-782-2121, ext. 2, or at [email protected].


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