Alum Revives Happy Memories with Music

Headphone

The residential staff could hear the soft crying of Mrs. C. from down the hall. A victim of dementia, the woman would sit alone by her door at Wisteria Place in Abilene, Texas, weeping and longing for her home and her daughter. She remained distant behind her tears­—until Leticia Stucki, the resident recreational therapist and a 2014 BYU grad, discovered an astounding way to reach her: Czechoslovakian polka. The music reminded Mrs. C. of when she was a child and watched her parents dance in the kitchen.

“I bought her an iPod and put some music on it. Now she smiles at all the people that walk by, and she isn’t waiting to go home anymore,” Stucki says. “When she loses the iPod, the nurses try and find it because it makes such a drastic difference in her mood.”

Stucki has seen music work miracles among the residents at Wisteria Place. After one year of work, Stucki has implemented a nonprofit therapeutic program called the Music and Memory Program. Its success has even recently garnered local media attention.

“The best part of my job is when I have helped create joy for the ladies and gentlemen I serve,” Stucki says. “When you see them listening to music, laughing and singing along, and moving with their hands, they are happier.”

The Music and Memory Program was something Stucki learned about before applying for her job. In her initial job interview she presented the program to the CEO, explaining her plans for its execution at the facility. Stucki was hired shortly thereafter and started the program upon entering the job.

The program works by giving each guest an iPod loaded with an individualized list of music to help promote fond memories and combat the negative effects of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. The nonprofit program studies more than one-hundred facilities and requires implementers like Stucki, to send in data each month to keep track of changes in participant behavior. Research has shown that the program is having a positive effect on participant mood and memory.

Stucki attributes much of her ability to start and implement therapeutic programs like the Music and Memory Program to Marriott School instructors. She said that they inspired her to present new ideas to her superiors with conviction, sharing what she believed would help alleviate suffering for those she served.

“My professors in the recreation management major prepared us very well by having us do a lot of experience projects,” Stucki says. “We had to put together our own procedure manuals and think about legal documents and assessments. That was really helpful because I came to a facility as the first rec therapist they had ever hired, and I was the one starting programs, documentation, paperwork, and assessments.”

Stucki highly recommends studying recreational therapy to those who have a lot of different interests and want a service-oriented job. She has loved being able to learn so many different subjects and deal with a plethora of situations. Likewise, she recommends that to be successful in the field, hands-on experience is essential.

“It’s a really interesting major because you take classes in biology, anatomy, business, psychology, and recreation,” Stucki says. “The MCOMM 320 class was extremely helpful as far as being confident in résumés and cover letters, interviewing, and learning how to hold yourself professionally.”

For Stucki, passion is key to finding happiness in the workplace.

“There is nothing more rewarding than being able to give someone back their individuality and help them remember who they are again,” Stucki says. “To be able to create that kind of happiness for people daily is amazing.”