Therapist tries to restore seniors’ dignity through music

By Kelsey Rettke Daily Chronicle (DeKalb, Ill.)

DEKALB, Ill. >> Jen Conley still remembers her home phone number from growing up with her six siblings because her mother taught them to memorize the digits to the tune of “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”

“Music is a wonderful mnemonic,” Conley said. “You can’t often recite a poem from a decade ago, but if you hear a song from a long time ago, those lyrics all come back.”

Conley, 50, of DeKalb, is a music therapist and specializes in sessions for seniors, the dying and the ailing. She’s building her own private practice in Sycamore, and spends her days traveling to nursing homes, retirement communities and houses to play music for her clients, chat and offer her company. Since beginning her work as a music therapist in 1986, she’s worked with clients in hospice settings, with dementia and various forms of cognitive decline doing what she firmly believes is restoring their dignity.

“I love their presence and gentle dignity,” Conley said. “Sort of like how a song can be imbued with all sort of layers, meaning and emotion, in older adults, you look at them and they might be feeble, forgetful, don’t know family, or not presented in a way that they would have been comfortable as a younger adult.

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