August 1, 2014  

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Southern Miss Social Work Student Helps Nursing Home Residents Find Harmony

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Brady Leatherwood, left, a student at The University of Southern Mississippi and her adviser, Karen Aderer, are developers of the Finding Harmony Project, bringing individualized music intervention to nursing home residents at the Driftwood Nursing Center in Gulfport, Miss.

Brady Leatherwood, a senior social work major at The University of Southern Mississippi, is helping nursing home residents with dementia find joy and re-discover their memories.

Leatherwood and her adviser Karen Aderer, an instructor in the School of Social Work, make weekly visits to residents at the Driftwood Nursing Center in Gulfport, Miss. During the visits they apply individualized music intervention ideally 30 minutes before sundowning, the most agitated period for a person with dementia.

“The music needs to apply to their memory, it is not generalized music,” says Leatherwood. “We attempt to figure out what music they like by asking nursing home staff, family members and observing how they initially react to music.”

While listening to their personalized playlists, residents relax and become more social. A song connected to a past experience can trigger lost memories. “One resident, who is a former musician, asks to have his saxophone in his lap while he listens, and is able to finger along to the music,” said Aderer.

Aderer discovered the method through Music & Memory, a program implementing individualized music intervention in nursing homes nationwide.

“I loved it. I knew this was something students would want to do and would be a way of de-mystifying working with elderly people,” says Aderer. “With aging baby boomers, the greatest need for social work is in the field of gerontology.”

She showed the concept to students in her Human Behavior class, and told them she intended to start a similar program, but did not know when. At the end of class, Leatherwood approached her adamant that she had to be involved. The project began.

The goals of the Finding Harmony Project are to advocate for individualized music in nursing homes and introduce social work students to working with the elderly.

“This project has re-affirmed my passion to go into gerontology. I knew it was an area needing to be addressed, but I wasn’t sure if I was the right person. My fear and anxiety about working with the elderly are now gone, now I am positive this is where I want to be,” said Leatherwood.

Leatherwood wrote a successful grant proposal, securing $1,000 to meet equipment needs, and is now working on others. Aderer commends her for being awarded the grant, which she says is a unique experience for an undergraduate student.

Now that the program is established, Leatherwood and Aderer are working to involve more social work students. So far three freshmen have committed 40 hours of service. They expect interest to only grow and hope to eventually launch a program in Hattiesburg.

“I think it should be a standard in nursing homes, especially low-income facilities that do not have access to as many resources,” says Leatherwood.

After graduating this spring, Leatherwood will pursue a Master’s of Social Work at Southern Miss. She intends to continue involvement with the project.

“The Finding Harmony project is really about connecting generations and optimizing the last years of their life. It’s really gratifying,” said Leatherwood.

For information about the School of Social Work, visit: www.usm.edu/social-work