Resident’s Grandson Gives the Gift of Music

Betty Vaaler was one of those women that you always remember fondly; she was kind, funny, caring, a loving and supportive mother and wife. The proof of that statement is obvious when you meet her family. Betty was also a woman of God, who enjoyed sharing her favorite bible verses and singing her favorite hymns.

Betty lived at English Rose Suites for four and a half years, sharing her beautiful personality with everyone. She was a hard working woman and loved to help with tasks around the house, watching the children at Mandala Montessori, attending plays and musicals, and being apart of the Red Hat Ladies Club. Betty’s gentle soul was never more apparent than when she would help to comfort other residents, softly holding their hand if they were sad or making them laugh to brighten their mood.

Betty planting with the Red Hat Society and having great conversation with company.

Betty was a huge fan of music; she loved it all. A few being show tunes, hymns, big band, Frank Sinatra, and Dean Martin. As Betty’s journey with dementia progressed, music brought her great comfort and increased her well-being. Some days, when the world became a bit too overwhelming, music was the greatest tool to bring her comfort.

Betty listening to her favorite music

One day, her son Andy brought over an iPod. Quality of Life Coordinator Katie Rinehimer loaded that iPod with all of Betty’s favorite CD’s. The iPod and music completely revolutionized the remainder of Betty’s journey. In addition to weekly music therapy in the homes, Betty found great peace and well-being through her personalized iPod. When Betty listened to her music, her appetite improved, her gait improved, and she was better able to engage in daily life. Betty passed away January 2016 at age 87.

Some time ago, we wrote about Music and Memory. We discussed the impact music has on the human brain and proven ways it increases the quality of life for individuals on their dementia journey. John Vaaler, Betty’s grandson, saw this impact first hand while his grandmother lived at English Rose Suites. John was inspired by his grandmother’s journey; he reached out to Jayne Clairmont, asking if we would be the recipients of his Eagle Scout project. Jayne immediately told John, “Yes!” Jayne has always been a big advocate of dementia education (and educator herself) and in turn, empowerment of individuals living with dementia. Jayne told the Sun Post, “This is about education. This is about their joy, but it’s about setting a benchmark in memory care about what can be done.”

John’s Eagle Scout project included receiving donations of iPods from friends and family, but he also went above and beyond by purchasing the remaining iPods with money he earned teaching ski lessons at Highland Hills in Bloomington. Needless to say, John’s family and extended family at English Rose Suites and b♦home Home Care, are very proud and excited to see John’s initiative and heart shining in his chosen Eagle Scout project. “I feel really good about executing this project. I think my grandma would have been so happy to see this come to fruition,” John adds, “A lot of my fellow scouts and friends assisted me with the project, and I am really happy that they could help out — they are now more aware of the effects of dementia and how to assist those who have dementia.”

John Vaaler, Betty's Grandson giving the Residents iPods

John, a 17 year old junior at Hopkins High School, and Katie developed a survey to send to Resident’s families, asking them to share musical memories from their loved ones lives. John then went and formed individualized playlists for each Resident on their own iPod. “I learned that musical tastes vary so much. It is not okay to assume that every older person likes Frank Sinatra! One resident, Kate, loves opera. And another resident, Max, loves Neil Diamond and Jimmy Buffet. It felt great to work with the scouts in my troop to tailor the iPod shuffles to include songs that mean something to them,” says John.

John and his troop came to English Rose Suites to deliver the iPods to each Resident. The result was instantaneous. The Residents were singing along, clapping, laughing, and gently moving along with the music from their lifetime. To the Resident’s amazement and enjoyment, John told them that all of their favorite music from when they were young adults were now stored on the little device they would be able to carry with them. He offered to add music of their choice, fix and replace their iPods as needed, assuring them he’d be back to see them.

John’s wonderful story was featured in the Edina Sun Current, Brooklyn Park Sun Post and the New Hope/Golden Valley Sun Post.

2 Responses
  1. What a precious and important story! When I was an administrator of assisted living communities, I was often surprised and saddened that many family members expected the assisted living community to fill 100% of the residents’ needs and interests. Besides not being a realistic expectation, family members didn’t seem to understand the important dynamic of doing things together to stay connected.

    The son’s idea about bringing an iPod for his mother to listen to her favorite music was terrific! Seeing how much she enjoyed the music likely was heartwarming for him and helped him stay emotionally connected with his mother.