Jessica Western Helps Alzheimer’s Clients with Music


Jessica Western ‘ 10, music therapy faculty, helps Alzheimer’s clients access memories through music.

Excerpt from an article in the Salem Statesman Journal, Dec. 11, 2015.

Music therapist Jessica Western handed out fluorescent kazoos to the group of six women. Immediately, fuzzy trumpet noises filled the room.

Western, equipped with an acoustic guitar, started playing “You are my Sunshine” as the participants buzzed along to the tune.

Rosalie Kilgore, 90, sang into hers, as if it were a microphone.

This was the scene of a music therapy session at Alzheimer’s Network in Salem. The first run of the eight-week course ended this week, and it will start up again in late January.

Kilgore, despite being in late stages of dementia, sang every word of the age-old classic, including the more obscure second and third verses.

That’s the power of music, Western said.

Music has a way of firing up circuits in the brain and helps people with neurological degradation make connections, she said.

“You can recover things,” Western said.

So people might forget the names of their spouses and children, or lose their ability to speak, but a childhood song could flow out of them much easier, she said.

People with Alzheimer’s and dementia can have difficulty staying in the moment, and Western used music to help draw people in, as well as help them notice one another.

Joyce Manahan, 89, could be seen fading in and out, sometimes appearing to be in her own world.

But when Western wheeled herself on her chair right in front of her and sang directly to her, her face lit up with a smile.

In the quiet left by the end of a song, Manahan mused out loud: “Miracles happen everywhere, don’t they?”

As a celebration to the end of the course, Western led the group in Christmas carols, while she played a baby grand piano in the lobby of Alzheimer’s Network.

Some helped Western play the piano, while others danced to Jingle Bells.

Among the participants was Diane Rolph, 52, who has early onset Alzheimer’s. Her mother, Brigitte Rolph, and other caregivers help her with house chores and meals.

Brigitte Rolph said her daughter looks forward to going to the music classes. She wasn’t sure if it benefited Diane clinically, but its emotional benefits were enough.

“Singing is kind of a like a release,” she said.

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Jessica Western earned a Bachelor of Music Therapy with a certificate in music performance from Marylhurst University in 2010. She is currently an adjunct faculty member and practicum site supervisor in the music therapy program at Marylhurst in addition to working for Willamette Valley Hospice.

2017-03-30T01:05:02+00:00 January 14th, 2016|About Marylhurst, Faculty, Music|