“A person’s memories and their personality define their identity,” says Duke School of Medicine student Kelly Ryan Murphy. “Memory impairment has motivated me to become a physician, as I have long felt a vocation to serve those affected by dementia. Dementia has no stereotype, and calls no behavior or demographic its own—all persons are at risk of this devastating disease. Moreover, as a medical student, I was frustrated by the lack of treatment options for dementia, other than mildly helpful medications.”
Murphy’s interest in serving elderly people meshed perfectly with those of Daniel Goltz, a med school classmate and musician with an interest in using technology to provide better care for patients.
As North Carolina Albert Schweitzer Fellows, Murphy and Goltz teamed up to expand a program they launched last year to provide personalized music therapy to memory-impaired adults at Eno Pointe Assisted Living Center, improving well-being and enhancing quality of life. With feedback from the participants, staff, and families, the Fellows create titrated personalized music tracks downloaded onto iPods to connect patients with memories triggered by music cues. Volunteers and staff ensure patients have access to their playlists most days of the week.
“Music reaches the deepest parts of our soul in a way that even our strongest connections to this world—our family and friends—cannot,” explains Goltz. “An elderly person with no apparent memory or social responsiveness puts on her headphones and immediately recognizes the song she danced to at her wedding. Memories suddenly pour in, and she begins dancing and singing with happiness. For us, these types of responses have become common, and we have seen tiny iPod shuffles energize residents in a way no medication ever could.”
Their program, “Connecting Residents with Dementia to their Autobiographic Soundtrack with Personalized Music” was such a hit that they won a 2016 AMDA Foundation Quality Improvement and Health Outcome Award, which recognizes innovative programs that make a distinct impact on the quality of long-term care. In March, the team was recognized at AMDA’s annual symposium in Orlando, Florida, including presenting their project in an educational session.
Murphy and Goltz have worked with fellow medical students to establish the program as an officially recognized organization at Duke, thus ensuring it will continue for the foreseeable future. With this group, Duke students Vinay Choksi and Kyle Freischlag were recently awarded a 2016-17 NC Schweitzer Fellowship to expand the program to patients in the long term care facility at the Durham VA. Through the efforts of their mentor Dr. Heidi White, their success has also inspired a similar program being developed by Duke’s geriatrics department at an inpatient hospital setting.
“Seeing the ripple effect of our project is incredibly rewarding because we worked to create one program, but it has inspired others to join the personalized music movement to develop new avenues of approach,” says Murphy. “The potential scope is beyond measure.”
Goltz is gratified by the transformational power of injecting meaningful music back into the lives of Eno Point residents, making them more engaged and calm and giving their family members an avenue to rekindle connections with their loved ones.
Their site mentor, Doris Coleman, has been instrumental in introducing the program to staff and they have been increasingly supportive in engaging residents in the personalized music therapy as they see the repeated benefits to the residents in increased mood and major decreases in agitation.
“The most rewarding aspect has been getting to know the residents in our program,” says Goltz. “Our hope is that as they enjoy the music, and as staff see the ways it can make their jobs easier—for example, as residents become less agitated—there will be a culture of music that permeates the entire facility, turning it into a more lively, energetic, happy place.”
Murphy says that although developing the project was at times difficult, it gave her valuable perspective on all that is required to care for memory-impaired adults. She is grateful for the support she and Goltz received from their supporters, mentors, and colleagues from Duke, ASF, and Eno Point Assisted Living, and for the flexibility they have had to tweak the program as circumstances dictated.
“Albert Schweitzer reminds us that success comes from persistence and keeping true to the mission,” Murphy notes. “But it is also okay if that original mission evolves and changes overtime. Developing this project hasn’t always been easy, and being a part of the Schweitzer Fellowship reminds us to seek the opinions and help of others to create team-based solutions—more perspectives lead to better ideas!”
As a musician now going into medicine, Goltz feels a kinship with Albert Schweitzer, who forged a successful career as an organist and Bach scholar before becoming a doctor and dedicating his life to serving others. He looks forward to being part of a “legacy that’s bigger than yourself,” as a Schweitzer Fellow for Life.
“It’s a legacy,” says Goltz, “that imagines a world where we all use our talents and abilities to help those in need, where our every ambition stems from a commitment to service.”