What is Project Playback?

We’re a group of high school students who visit a local nursing home a few times per week, providing musical therapy to residents using iPods. Specifically, we work with residents who have Alzheimer’s or dementia--although that is certainly not a requirement. Some of the residents we work with enjoy their music during physical therapy sessions, while they’re in bed, or simply to relax.

Many of the residents that we work with have their own individualized playlist that they listen to. These playlists are made of the individual's favorite music, and are created specifically for that patient’s use. For residents that cannot recall their favorites or are unable to communicate that information to us, we contact the family of that person to get to know their preferences. We also use more generalized playlists based off of time periods and genres for some individuals. For the most part, the music on each patient’s playlist contains songs that they would’ve listened to in their youth. We also strive to incorporate other songs or types of music that are special to each patient, like wedding songs.

Our main goal in Project Playback is to connect with each patient or resident through music and to bring back memories from their youth. Particularly in patients with Alzheimer’s or dementia, where the cognitive function of the brain begins to decline, music is able to stimulate the patient and trigger memories and emotions associated with certain songs. And so, in a way, the music can act as a passageway back to a patient’s youth.


The History of Project Playback

The Middle School of the Kennebunks, where we attended middle school, became an International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme (IBMYP) certified school in the early 2000s. With this certification, the school adopted the IB curriculum which has a general focus on incorporating community into a student’s general education.

Our project originated as part of the piloting year of the IB Community Service Project, which required all eighth graders to form groups of two or three and collaborate over numerous months in a project which would benefit the community. The three of us joined together because of our unanimous passion for music. We had all been members of the school’s concert and jazz bands, and had formed a jazz combo together. We knew that we wanted our project to involve music.

The initial idea was simply to travel around to local nursing homes and to put on a performance of our jazz combo for the patients. It would be fairly easy to do, since we already had experience with performing, and knew of a few local nursing homes which would gladly allow us to perform. But we decided that in the long run, this wouldn’t really have a lasting effect on the patients that we performed for.

Luckily, inspiration struck. Colby had seen a trailer for a documentary about music’s effects on the Alzheimer’s brain and immediately knew that was what he wanted to do. After some persuading, Juli and Jason agreed with the idea.

We’ve been visiting residents at the Kennebunk Center for Health and Rehabilitation for over two years now. It’s just about a five minute walk from our high school, Kennebunk High School, so we can just walk over to work with the patients. We’re typically there twice a week for about an hour and a half each time.

Project Playback was recognized as part of U.S. Cellular’s Future of Good campaign, where our group received a generous donation of supplies such as MP3s, headphones, and CDs. With all of this new equipment, we hope to expand Project Playback to other local nursing homes to increase the impact on the community. Thanks to the supplies from U.S. Cellular, we now can expand to 3 new nursing homes in our community!

It’s always been one of our most important goals to continue Project Playback after we graduate from high school. Right now, we’re training a group of eighth graders from the Middle School of the Kennebunks, and plan to continue training more eighth graders in the future, so that they can take over after we head off to college.