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Music & Memory

Carrie Bloomfield PortraitCarrie Bloomfield with Eric Bressler

Bet Shalom member Carrie Bloomfield discusses with Eric Bressler the Music & Memory Program that helps enrich the lives of those with memory loss. 

I’m excited to hear about the innovative work you’re doing at Sholom, Carrie. Please tell us about the Music & Memory Program!

It’s the main program of the non-profit organization Music & Memory, musicandmemory.org. Their mission statement is that “Music & Memory … helps individuals with a wide range of cognitive and physical challenges to engage with the world, ease pain and reclaim precious memories as well as their humanity through the use of personalized music.” The program is implemented in part by building personalized playlists of music from these people’s formative years to help add quality and connections to their lives.

Why is personalized music so effective for those living with dementia and other cognitive limitations?

Paraphrasing Music & Memory’s explanation, scientific research indicates that music is deeply rooted in our conscious and unconscious brains. Music becomes even more important as the functioning of the brain deteriorates from Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and other types of cognitive loss. It awakens the brain and the memories associated with familiar songs and beloved pieces of music.

How did you become involved with the Music & Memory Program?

My mom lived in Roitenberg Memory Care for over five years. While I spent a great deal of time there with her, I became close with many of the residents and staff. I learned a lot about cognitive loss and how sad and challenging it can be for the residents and their families. When my mom passed away in 2015 I was devastated. Losing her left a huge hole in my heart and in my daily life. Initially it was very difficult to go back into the building, but I knew that eventually I wanted to spend time with the residents again and give back to the Roitenberg family that had cared for my mom and loved her so unconditionally. When I heard that Sholom would be bringing the Music & Memory Program to their residents, I wanted to get involved. I began as a volunteer, spending one-on-one time visiting with residents and listening to their personalized music with them.

What is your current role with the program?

In 2019, I became an independent contractor for Sholom working as a Music & Memory Specialist for both the Minneapolis and St. Paul Sholom campuses. I work with staff to identify those residents who will benefit from the program, and I interview their families to learn more about their loved ones so I can build personalized music players with playlists that will speak directly to them.  Ultimately I will be educating volunteers about this program and training them to go into Sholom, build a rapport with the residents and share the joy of listening to personalized music together.

What is it like to interview families, and what has their reaction been to the program?

I really enjoy this piece of the program. Not only do I have the privilege of learning more about their loved ones and how music played a role in their lives, but I share in their joy re-living many special stories and moments. The families are very excited to partner with me to create music playlists that reflect cherished memories in their family’s lives. They are so happy to know that music will help  bring comfort and joy to those that they love during these challenging times in their lives.

Can you share some stories of residents’ reactions to their own personalized music players?

The joy, connection, familiarity and comfort that many residents experience when listening to their music is amazing. Some examples:

From a daughter: “My father has been disinterested in most everything lately. Yesterday when I called him, he asked me to please call back later because he was very busy listening to his music.”

From a staff member: “ As soon as I put the headphones on my resident, he became 100% immersed in his music. Not only did he begin tapping to the music, but his arms were were in full swing and he started to hum along. One day, the headphones were left on during a meal and he ate much more independently and more food than usual!”

From staff: “My resident tried his player for the first time today and after a few seconds, he broke out into a soprano pitched singing voice, which startled all of the nurses out of their office because they thought that something was wrong! Now we all know that it is just him singing to his Hawaiian music.”

From a volunteer: “Before the pandemic, I was able to go into the nursing home and listen to music with the same resident every week. I would often find him very sleepy and disengaged. Most often as soon as I put the headphones over his ears and played his favorite classical music, he would begin to smile and move his arms as though he was directing an orchestra. He also would hold my hand, touch my face and give me a hug when I was leaving.

From a hospice volunteer:  “My client received her personalized music player during the last week of her life. Music was always a huge part of her life and she must have said thank you a hundred times when I brought it to her. As soon as she began to listen, she was transported, relaxed and melted into that moment; there was no worry on her face. This was one of the most beautiful moments that I have ever experienced as a doula.”

Carrie, I understand you are involved with the Alzheimer’s Association and will be participating in the 2021 Twin Cities Walk to End Alzheimer’s?

Yes! I’ve been a committee volunteer for several years and a walker/fundraiser for many years as well. The annual walk is a beautiful and powerful event; it will take place this year at Target Field on September 18. I will be walking with my team “Babi’s Bunch” which is named for my mom, Eva.  For anyone interested in walking, please go to the Twin Cities Walk to End Alzheimer’s page. If you’re unable to attend the walk but are interested in joining forces to improve the quality of life for those living with Alzheimer’s and ultimately help to bring an end to this devastating disease, please consider making a donation by CLICKING HERE and then “Donate.” 

Lastly, tell us about yourself and your family.

I was born and raised in Duluth, the youngest of 4, with 3 older brothers. I moved to Minneapolis in 1981 to attend the University of Minnesota. I have been married to my husband Ricky for 33 years and we have two sons, Jared who lives in Denver and Sam who lives in Minneapolis. I have been a volunteer coach for the Girls on the Run program for 7 years and an active political volunteer. I really enjoy running, biking, walking, hiking, traveling, listening to podcasts and spending time with family and friends. Our family joined Bet Shalom about 18 years ago, and both of our sons became B’nai Mitzvah and were confirmed there. In addition to helping us celebrate those milestones, the Rabbis, Cantors and congregation have also provided strength and support during difficult times in our lives.