Finding joy

Sometimes it’s hard to find joy in the day-to-day. On those days, there’s music.

There’s singing, dancing and laughter in the halls of the Claremore Veteran’s Center as residents are shuffling through the corridors re-living their glory days thanks to customized playlists.

The center became nationally certified in the Music and Memory program in January of 2017 and have brought music to the lives of some 265 veterans.

For Billie H., the playlist includes Patsy Cline and Conway Twitty—which he sings aloud to everyone in the room the second he puts his headphones on. Broadway hits and Artie Shaw are what gets Jack S. moving and grooving.

Monique DiLonardo, program administrator, said for these men and women its a flashback to happier days at the push of a button.

“What we try to do is tap into that emotional memory for our veterans to try to use music as a way to feel comforted and derive some pleasure in life, help them with their quality of life.

So we’ve acquired MP3 players and we interview each of our veterans, and their family, find out their year of birth and target the years where we all create our own self-identity—those late teens and early 20s years. We try to find music from that era. We personalize each of those iPods for each of our veterans,” she said. “So far we have interviewed and populated 265 of those music players. We have maybe another 30 to go in order to get one for every single veteran in the building. Plus, we have to replace a few lost or broken ones along the way. It’s a constant work in progress but we have had such great results from a lot of the guys finding some joy in every single day listening to music they absolutely love.”

She said the program started specifically with their residents with a diagnosis of Dementia.

Often, she said, these men and women become more withdrawn, apathetic and less likely to engage with their environment or things they once loved.

“We offer them the music and they just start smiling, their face brightens up. Oftentimes they get up and dance and sing,” she said. “There’s one lady, I put her headphones on her and she says ‘oh that’s a beautiful song.’ She looks up at me and says ‘why aren’t you dancing?’ She was so happy I didn’t want to explain that I couldn’t hear it—so I started dancing anyway.”

DiLonardo said music is powerful and transformative and she loves seeing the impact it has on the veterans.

“We give them music and they find joy in their world,” she said. “Some days it’s hard to find that joy, and this music helps.”

For residents with depression or anxiety she said music helps calm them down, which makes treatments and procedures easier.

“Music is a really powerful thing. It takes you back to all of the friends you were with. It makes you remember all the laughter and fun. It just takes you back to that time and place. They find that joy, and that joy stays with them. It continues throughout their day here.

Without the music it was just another day. But this just makes the whole day brighter and we see the effects of that which last longer than just the duration of the song,” she said.

It’s not uncommon to see residents huddled together comparing playlists, she said.

“They’ll come in and say, ‘I talked to so-and-so and he has Rolling Stones, can I have that?’ And of course we’re happy to add it to their playlist. We’re constantly updating their playlists to them,” she said.

Currently, the center has 11,000 in the library but they’re constantly looking to add more to ensure every veteran has their favorites.

If anyone wanted to contribute to the program, she said there are a few ways to do so.

“We use SanDisk ClipJam players, because they’re easy to use and teach. But we regularly need more or have to replace these,” she said. “If anyone wanted to add to our music library they could donate iTunes gift cards. Monetary donations can be made to the benefit fund to be used for new headphones, players or songs.”