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Social work student creates iPod-based therapy program

June 9, 2013

Editor's note: The following story about UW-Eau Claire social work student Jill Seichter appeared in the June 9 issue of the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram and is reprinted with permission.

By Dan Holtz
Eau Claire Leader-Telegram staff 

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UW-Eau Claire student Jill Seichter received the UW-Eau Claire Foundation's Ryan Prechel Community Service Fellowship for her project focusing on music therapy using iPods on dementia patients. The scholarship was established by Nancy and David Prechel in recognition of their son's exceptional career as a student leader at UW-Eau Claire. (Photo by Dan Reiland, Eau Claire Leader-Telegram)
Kris Metcalf helped Ellen Ball select Elvis Presley's version of "How Great Thou Art" and placed the headphones on Ball's ears.

The two women started singing along with Elvis.

Ball then sang by herself, with a big smile on her face, when "Amazing Grace" came up on her iPod.

Ball is one of five residents at Dove Healthcare-West, 1405 Truax Blvd., participating in a music therapy program for people with Alzheimer's disease or dementia.

Ball has her own iPod loaded with her favorite songs. Dove staff help her whenever she wants to listen to her iPod.

"It's decreased her anxiety," Metcalf, Dove's recreation director, said of Ball and the music therapy program. "She has a calm atmosphere about her."

Ball has difficulty verbally expressing herself, but she's made it obvious she enjoys the music. She might get nervous about getting dressed or taking her medications, but the music calms her down, Metcalf said.

"It's easier for our staff to help her," she added.

Ball loves hymns and songs from the musical "The Sound of Music."

Jill Seichter, a UW-Eau Claire social work major from Menomonie, introduced the iPod music therapy program at Dove Healthcare-West.

Seichter's project, titled "Music+Memories=Magic," earned her the $1,250 Ryan Prechel Community Service Fellowship from the university.

Seichter gave donated iPods to Dove Healthcare-West and Care Partners, an assisted-living facility at 2306 Frank St.

She personalized the devices with individualized music for residents involved with the program.

Staff handle the iPods at Dove. At Care Partners, Seichter works one-on-one with the residents for her project.

Seichter started the project after a professor showed a video on music therapy during one of her classes.

Last fall she selected Dove and Care Partners for the project.

Seichter's expectations from the project were simple.

"Giving them a better quality of life. Giving them a happy moment," she said. "Anything that can make them enjoy their life. It's just something to make them happy."

The spirits of two women she works with improve when the music starts, Seichter said.

"One lady, when you put the music on, her toes start wiggling," she said.

The second woman, who is often sad, has eyes that "light up" when she hears the music, Seichter said.

Seichter also was motivated by her grandfather, who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's. In working with her grandfather, she's noticed a calmness when she provides him with music.

"He's never seen headphones like that," she said. "He laughs at the pictures I take of him with the headphones. He loves his show tunes and hymns."

Residents were selected for Metcalf's program based on who responded to the music and who might most benefit, Metcalf said. "They had to have a love of music."

Decreased anxiety appears to be the biggest benefit for the Dove residents involved in the program, Metcalf said.

Dove has residents who may have problems remembering the day of the week or where they are living. "But they can remember four verses of a song," she said.

"That part of the memory is still intact and we want to tap into that as much as possible."

One male resident at Dove, who is not verbal, is calmed by the music. His wife assists him with his iPod, Metcalf said.

"It's nice to have that kind of bonding," Seichter said, referring to the man.

A second male resident, who is also not verbal, "starts singing whenever we have a sing-along," Metcalf said. "It brings his wife to tears."

Dove staff hasn't compiled statistics yet, Metcalf said, but she's interested to see if Seichter's music therapy program will reduce medications for any residents, develop better sleep patterns and improve or increase their appetite.

"Down the line we could track that," she said. "At this point, we just want to improve the quality of life and decrease anxiety."

"We consider ourselves very lucky (Seichter) chose us," Metcalf said.

The money Seichter receives from the fellowship will go into her music therapy program. Seichter intends to buy more iPods with the funds.

Because UW-Eau Claire students have a community service requirement, Seichter hopes other students pursue the project after she graduates in spring 2014 and involve other nursing homes or assisted-living facilities.

"To me, it's worth trying anything," Seichter said. "Any benefit from the music is a positive. Even if it's just for a few minutes, it's just great. It's so rare having that big smile."

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