The Gift of Music

Maggie Heneghan is wearing a big smile as she prepares to deliver the big news: “We’ve 125 iPods on the nose!”

On October 28, Maggie, a teacher at Holy Heart High School, along with her students, pledged to donate 100 iPods towards the expansion of the Music & Memory program at Eastern Health. It was an ambitious number, but the perfect challenge for this group of enthusiastic supporters.

IMG_Music and Memory_Holy Heart teacher Maggie Heneghan

Maggie Heneghan, Holy Heart High School teacher, at Eastern Health’s announcement of the expansion of the Music & Memory program. Photo by Phil Simms. More photos here.

The old saying, “Nothing brings back a memory like a song,” rang true for them.

Whether it’s the words, the rhythm, the tune, or the feelings it evokes, a song can bring back a certain time, place, person or event quite vividly. It can unlock long-forgotten memories – and connect us to our past with a smile – or a tear – and set our feet tapping in spite of ourselves.

IMG_Music and Memory BANNER Image

That’s the idea behind Music & Memory, a therapeutic program that uses iPods to bring personalized music to seniors living in Eastern Health nursing homes, enhancing quality of life.

Music & Memory has been found to have many benefits, especially to persons suffering from Alzheimer’s or other dementias.

Dr. Aaron McKim, clinical chief for Long-Term Care at Eastern Health, agrees. “Evidence shows that music can reduce agitation, lessen anxiety, reduce pain, lower blood pressure, and help with sleep,” he says.

A Good Match: New Technology and Old Lyrics

When she became aware of this program, Maggie jumped at the opportunity to get involved. “I learned about the connection between music and memory in my own readings about neuroplasticity and rerouting the brain,” she says. “I also saw the connection – music bridges time and brings the young and the old together.”


Holy Heart School group buzz as they triumphantly set up the devices for a photo shoot. (l-r) High School students Joshua Murphy, Grace King, Sarah Garland, teacher Maggie Heneghan (middle), students Guadalupe Koen-Alonso, Olivia Parsons, Olivia Garland and Alyssa Young

“I think our iPod drive was so successful because it spoke to everyone in one way or another,” said Holy Heart student Joshua Murphy. “Raising iPods wasn’t something distant that we couldn’t be a part of, I’d say a lot of us have an iPod somewhere lying around that’s not being used.”

And it provided a unique way to bridge a generation gap in a province that has one of the fastest aging populations in Canada.

In 2011, approximately 45,000 individuals within the Eastern Health region (about 14.5 per cent) were 65 years of age or older, and this number is expected to increase by 22 per cent in the next decade. Additionally, estimates suggest the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease and other related dementias will nearly double every 20 years.

All of this will result in increased demands for quality health care services, especially among our elder population, and shows why it’s important to work together to find innovative ways to treat seniors – for clinical benefits and to enrich their quality of life.

Music & Memory is a highly collaborative and interdisciplinary program that involves not only community partnerships, but also numerous departments within Eastern Health – such as long-term care, allied health, volunteer resources, research, infection prevention and control, ethics and corporate communications.

A flurry of devices

Holy Heart High School raises 125 iPods for seniors in Long-Term Care

According to Maggie, the planned week-long iPod drive was very effective because they had to focus their efforts. She says that once word got out, iPods started to come in fistfuls!

“Every day we’d announced how many iPods we had,” Maggie added. “On Thursday we had 41 devices, and then the school donated 30 more, which brought us to 71 iPods.”

To keep the momentum going, school principal Sheldon Barry asked teachers to take three minutes to show the documentary trailer of the film “Alive inside: A story of music and memory,” produced by Michael Rossado Bennett, which chronicles the experiences of seniors who have been revitalized through music intervention.

“We had a cash collection going that day, and within an hour, over $350 were raised,” Maggie says. “So with that money we bargained at a local shop for various second-hand iPods.”

At the same time – between teachers, staff, students and parents – several brand new iPods were bought or donated, and by Friday, the school had met – and surpassed their goal. Meanwhile, iPods still continue to roll in for the residents at Eastern Health.


(l-r) Guadalupe Kohen-Alonso and Joshua Murphy, students at Holy Heart High School, St. John’s

The passion displayed by the Holy Heart school community is nothing short of inspirational.

Student Guadalupe Kohen-Alonso says the best thing was seeing how people can react so quickly, and so passionately, for a good cause.

“As youth, we are sometimes afraid or hesitant to engage in different things,” she added. “We feel that we don’t have a voice, but it is in doing things like this that we realize we do, and that it really is our responsibility to use that voice in the best way we can.”

To learn more about Music and Memory at Eastern Health, please visit: ■

This story was written by Melisa Valverde, digital communications manager with Eastern Health.

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