As a music therapist, Troy Jones, ’94, has made music for more than 15 years with individuals and groups at skilled nursing facilities, assisted living, independent living senior facilities, hospitals and a host of other settings. But he didn’t start out working in music. After earning a degree in business management from Truman State University (formerly Northeast Missouri State University), Jones worked for a mortgage company. When his wife, Cindy, suggested, “You’re wasting your time,” he enrolled in Maryville’s music therapy program.
Jones then worked in music therapy full-time for a local hospital for more than a decade, but continued to visit other facilities for senior citizens. Eventually, that side work became his primary vocation; these days, he is fully self-employed.
An innovative and inspiring initiative spearheaded by Jones in recent years is called “The Memory Drummers,” a project sponsored by the St. Louis chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.
The American Music Therapy Association, Inc. has worked for years to spread the word about the growing body of research that explores the unique role music and music therapy can have in the care for individuals living with dementia or Alzheimer’s. Research suggests music therapy has been effective in the reduction of depression, helping recall and language skills, as a tool to assess cognitive ability in people with Alzheimer’s and more.
The idea behind “The Memory Drummers” was to see if people with early stage dementia could have a meaningful participation in some group music making. The answer, Troy said, has been a resounding (if sometimes clamoring) yes.
“The group makes music, but you have to really define music, I guess. What we do in a drum circle is noise to some people. In our group sessions we sing a lot of older songs and work on a lot of memory recall. There’s also a lot of relational time — checking in on one another, seeing how we’re all doing that day,” said Jones.
It didn’t take long for the group to find a rhythm, then begin performing at a variety of events and venues: the Alzheimer’s Association’s Memory Walk; the Saint Louis Science Center; and in the rotunda of the Missouri State Capitol Building, to name a few.
The Memory Drummers initiative was recently included in the International Council for Caring Communities’ 2010 compendium of special music projects around the world. The compendium was presented at the National Arts Club to representatives from the United Nations, U.S. government and the private sector at an event in support of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals and part of the UN’s Habitat’s “Better City-Better Life” World Habitat celebrations.
Jones spends time at four or five facilities most workdays and—international compendiums and UN delegates aside—it is the small, but intensely personal breakthroughs that are the most profound validations of his work.
“A few weeks ago I was at a memory care facility that I visit twice a month and we were having a group music session. And all of sudden it was like this one woman just woke up. I mean, we all noticed it, and the other residents noticed it. All of a sudden she was singing a song with everyone else and playing along with a maraca. Some people won’t respond to recorded music, only live music,” says Jones.