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Denver7 Everyday Hero gives the power of music to help awaken seniors living with dementia

Everyday Hero provides healing power of music at senior living center
Posted at 8:20 AM, Jul 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-12 10:20:11-04

LAKEWOOD, Colo. — For the residents at senior living facilities and their families, the past year has been filled with the anguish of uncertainty.

"It’s been hard," said Michael Hesse, whose mother lives at Applewood Place Senior Living by Juniper. "I was worried she was alone in there. ... Being alone with dementia, we could come appear at the window and things like that and when we tried to talk to her about it, she just didn’t understand what was going on."

It's why a gesture of kindness by a Colorado teenager is that much more special.

"When I heard this, it was like a ray of hope... it was like the cavalry was coming, that somebody cared," Hesse said.

That somebody is Ryan Birnesser.

For the past year, he watched how the pandemic affected his own grandma who was living at the facility, and how the isolation began to steal parts of her dementia had spared. So, for his Eagle Scout Project, he decided to raise money and buy headphones and iPods to help the assisted living facility launch the Music and Memory Program.

"We’ve been waiting for a long time to get this program rolling and because of what he's done, we'll be able to do that," said connections associate Sarah Corey,

The idea is that music can unlock deep memories from our past, and by simply listening, it can bring people with dementia back to life.

"When they hear something familiar, it’s like smelling something familiar. They hear that music and it brings them back, maybe to childhood, maybe to a high school sweetheart," Corey said.

To really understand the gift, you have to see it. Senior Joann Dikeou had the urge to get up and dance as she listened to the King of Rock and Roll.

Sadly, Birnesser's grandmother passed away before she could see his gift come to life, but as Joann danced to Elvis, the 17-year-old looked on, perhaps for the first time really understanding what he'd given these seniors back.

Molly Hendrickson anchors Denver7 in the mornings from 4:30-7 a.m. She also features a different 7Everyday Hero each week on Denver7. Follow Molly on Facebook here and Twitter here. To nominate a hero in your life, click here.