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MN Veterans Home in Luverne earns state honor for new program

LUVERNE -- In early January 1976, singer Barry Manilow topped the Billboard chart with "I write the songs." "... Oh my music makes you danceAnd gives you spirit to take a chance.And I wrote some rock 'n roll so you can move;Music fills your heart...

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Minnesota's Lt. Gov. Tina Smith (second from right) stands with Deputy Commissioner of Veterans Affairs Douglas Hughes (from left), Luverne Veterans Home Recreation Therapy Coordinator Shirley Connor, Social Services Director Nancy Lofthus, Administrator Luke Schryvers (back) and Administration Commissioner Matt Massman after the home was recognized for its Music & Memory program. (Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs)

LUVERNE - In early January 1976, singer Barry Manilow topped the Billboard chart with “I write the songs.”

“... Oh my music makes you dance
And gives you spirit to take a chance.
And I wrote some rock 'n roll so you can move;
Music fills your heart -
Well, that's a real fine place to start
It's from me, it's for you,
It's from you, it's for me -
It's a worldwide symphony

I write the songs that make the whole world sing;
I write the songs of love and special things.
I write the songs that make the young girls cry;
I write the songs, I write the songs….”

 

Music. It connects people - it has the ability to alter moods, to spark memories, to make you tap your toes. It might even get you to sing along.

That’s what Shirley Connor has noticed most from some of the residents in the special care (dementia) unit at the Minnesota Veterans Home in Luverne after a music and memory program was introduced last summer. The program was recently honored with a statewide Better Government Award presented by Lt. Gov. Tina Smith.

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Until music streamed through iPods and headsets, staff at the Minnesota Veterans Home in Luverne had difficulty connecting with some of its residents most impacted by the debilitating effects of memory loss, including those who are nonverbal.

Introducing music to such individuals is nothing new - it is offered in other care facilities with success. Luke Schryvers, administrator at the veterans home in Luverne, learned of the idea at a conference at which staff from other care facilities spoke of its benefits.

Last summer, he and Connor completed a three-day video conference training to learn about - and become certified in - leading a Music & Memory Program at the Luverne facility. The goal was to enhance the lives of residents by engaging them with musical playlists customized to their particular interests and memories.

“We knew we needed something to improve our programming, but also easy for our staff to use,” Schryvers said.

Connor, the recreation therapy coordinator at the veterans home, is tasked with loading the residents’ favorite music onto the dozen iPods the facility has invested in thus far. As word spreads about the musical offerings, she said more residents are requesting to join the program.

“Anyone of us can listen to a song and it will just automatically transport you back to the day and time when you remember what you might have been doing in high school - or maybe your wedding dance,” Connor said. “Music just has that power -  it just stays in our brains, and we’re hardwired to remember those things forever.

“It’s just a powerful tool, I think, to reach people who might be in the dementia process or just needing that little extra special touch,” she added.

As residents are fitted with their headsets and begin to listen to the music, Connor said she’s seen an array of reactions.

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“We saw some significant times when it would calm them down - even if it only calmed people down for 10 minutes, it’s better than nothing,” she said. “Other people you just see a lot of joy - you see a lot of smiles, you see some tears, a lot of singing - a lot of singing. Even with dementia, when their verbal skills are diminished, most of them can still sing.”

With 31 different categories of music available through the program, staff at the Minnesota Veterans Home at Luverne have begun asking families about the music their loved one enjoys or might have a connection to.

“We’ve had some families that were very good at giving me very specific songs by very specific singers,” Connor said. “That’s really nice when people can do that.”

One family, for instance, said their loved one was a huge Shania Twain fan.

“We would have never guessed it,” Schryvers added. “It was something he really cherished.”

Some families have even brought in CDs featuring the artists their resident most enjoys, and Connor said the home has built up a collection.

“We have to retain the actual CD in order to legally put it on these iPods,” Connor said, adding that she also purchases music from iTunes.

The veterans home started the program with five iPods and has since added seven more. Connor said the facility is willing to purchase more as the interest grows among residents.

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“Some of our Vietnam veterans heard about the iPods and actually requested them,” she noted. “They had some very specific music they like too - like Credence and the Eagles - things I’m more familiar with. We’ve kind of branched out to some residents who’ve requested to have their own playlist.”

While the Music & Memory program is still relatively new at the home, Schryvers said the social services department now explains the benefits to families as they admit a loved one into the facility.

Staff at the veterans home is also enjoying the program’s benefits.

“There’s a variety of staff that are really embracing this as a tool to at least provide some enjoyment for these residents - especially those with dementia,” Connor said. “Even if all (the residents) do is sit there and tap their toe, it sounds like a good day to me.”

The Minnesota Veterans Home at Luverne received its Better Government Award in the category of “Great Customer Service.” It’s the second time in three years the veterans home has been recognized with one of these awards. Two years ago, Schryvers said, it was recognized for their dining program.

While he’s pleased with how the Music & Memory program is going thus far, he said there’s ways to improve it.

“I think the program is going to be as beneficial as we make it,” he said. “I think it’s something we need to continue to focus on. As easy as it is to implement, we can do more.”

Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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