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Ecumen residents to explore Music and Memory

When Jim Joseph was studying to be a pastor in the 1970s, he volunteered in an assisted living home, offering ministry to the elderly. He still remembers one woman, in the grips of Alzheimer’s and blindness, who was depressed and irritable.

In fact, if you approached her, she would “pinch you until you bled,” Joseph said.

Looking for a way to get through to her, Joseph started standing next to her – outside of the range of pinching – and singing old church hymns.

“It would calm her spirit,” he said. “Then, she would let me stroke her cheek. It was the first time I could see the profound effect music had on people.”

Now, Joseph lives in Two Harbors and serves the Living Waters Fellowship, an Assemblies of God church. When Mistyn Haig, the recreation director at Ecumen Scenic Shores, approached him asking for support for a new Music and Memory program at the care center, he jumped at the chance.

“I’m so pleased that we could help them,” he said.

He encouraged a $500 donation to the program from Neighbor to Neighbor, a thrift store managed by the Two Harbors Christian Ministerial Association. The program will fill iPods with the favorite music of dementia patients at Ecumen Care Center. First Baptist Church also kicked in $1,000 in support of the program.

“It’s just so cool that people are behind us in this,” Haig said.

The Two Harbors assisted living and care center has been a nationwide pioneer in alternative dementia treatments. In 2009, the facility, then called Sunrise Home, started the Awakenings program, which focused on unconventional treatments for patients experiencing memory loss. They focused on less medication and more personal attention.

Effects were immediate and positive, and caught the attention of many. According to a 2011 News-Chronicle story, the program was featured in The New York Times among other news outlets, and the Minnesota Department of Human Services gave Ecumen a grant to expand the program. Ecumen, a Minnesota-based nonprofit, has 43 facilities in seven states.

The Music and Memory program is just another way to bring patients comfort and joy without medication.

“People are so much happier,” Haig said of those receiving care under the Awakenings program. “They aren’t drugged, they aren’t asleep. They are alive and they’re living and they’re real people. It’s very rewarding.”

She said the care center has been gathering music preferences from the family members of residents and plans to implement the program within the next couple of weeks. Thanks to the donations, they have enough money to get the program up and running, but they are still accepting donations of used iPods, iTunes gift cards or cash.

“(Music) brings joy to people, which is what living is all about,” she said.

With individual songs in the iTunes store costing up to $1.29 each, music isn’t cheap. Pastor Joseph said he hopes the community gets behind the program and supports it financially.

“I see people that I’ve known for years who don’t respond to everything, but they respond to the hymns,” he said. “I think we’re going to see a great benefit.”

To donate to the program, call Ecumen at 834-8374 and ask for Mistyn. You can also stop by the care center at 402 13th Ave., Two Harbors, to drop of iPods, iTunes gift cards or monetary donations.

LaReesa Sandretsky
LaReesa Sandretsky is a Two Harbors High School graduate and Duluth native who began working at the News-Chronicle in 2012 as a reporter. She took over as editor in 2014. She covers County Board, including the Lake County broadband project.
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