Memories Return With Personalized Music For Those With Dementia, Alzheimer’s

By Kathy Walsh

CENTENNIAL, Colo. (CBS4)– Music touches us all. It can inspire us and bring back memories. That’s why Someren Glen Memory Support Community in Centennial is using music as therapy for people with dementia.

Not just any music, but personalized playlists that may help a person, who no longer remembers, reconnect.

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(credit: CBS)

CBS4 Health Specialist Kathy Walsh met Joanna Ruhlman.

Walsh: “Did you always love music?”

Ruhlman: “I loved it and then I would sing it off tune.”

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CBS4 Health Specialist Kathy Walsh interviews Joanna Ruhlman (credit: CBS)

Joanna Ruhlman is funny and feisty. It’s hard to believe she’s 88 years old.

Walsh: “I think you’re 88 years young.”

Ruhlman: “I’ll take it.”

Ruhlman is a single mother of three, a teacher of 35 years and an artist. Her paintings are still bright, but her memories have faded.

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(credit: CBS)

“Just a progression of the Alzheimer’s. There’s nothing that can reverse it,” explained Ann McCurdy, Ruhlman’s daughter.

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CBS4 Health Specialist Kathy Walsh interviews Joanna Ruhlman’s daughter Ann McCurdy (credit: CBS)

McCurdy says her mother needs help with names, dates and daily living. Ruhlman lives in the Someren Glen Memory Support Community in Centennial.

This day is a good day. Memory Care Coordinator Erin Hudnall has set up Ruhlman with her own iPod and personal playlist.

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Memory Care Coordinator Erin Hudnall with Joanna Ruhlman (credit: CBS)

Ruhlman hears a Glen Miller song and comes alive. The music has her dancing and awakens memories.

“Like a light comes on and they’re just back and they’re really happy,” explained Hudnall.

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Joanna Ruhlman (credit: CBS)

Music can’t move Ruhlman back to the Indiana home she loved. It can’t cure the confusion that comes with Alzheimer’s disease.

Ruhlman: “Do you live here?”

Walsh: “I do. I live in Colorado not too far from here.”

Ruhlman: “Colorado?”

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Joanna Ruhlman (credit: CBS)

But a special song or melody can take a person back. Ruhlman said she knew Glen Miller’s music in high school. And music can make a day much better.

“It is fun,” said Ruhlman.

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(credit: CBS)

The Music and Memory program is a national nonprofit dedicated to bringing personalized music to those with dementia to improve their quality of life.

If you are interested in learning more and perhaps volunteering to help Someren Glen residents create their personal playlists, please call 720.974.3519.

Kathy Walsh is CBS4’s Weekend Anchor and Health Specialist. She has been with CBS4 for more than 30 years. She is always open to story ideas. Follow Kathy on Twitter @WalshCBS4.

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