Tracy Prasco of Lowell has always had a special place in her heart for the elderly. She had been working as a hospice volunteer when her husband ran across an award-winning Sundance Film Festival documentary called “Alive Inside” about the use of music therapy in dementia patients.
“I was amazed by all it had to educate me on how I was spending my time with residents. The film shows how music is able to prevail when prescription medications have fallen short. Music and memories related to it are stored in the last part of the brain to be affected by Alzheimer’s,” said Prasco. “I found the information provided fascinating and began using music in my visits. I was sitting with a resident I was assigned and playing music as I heard the most beautiful voice behind me singing the lyrics angelically. The part of this story which made me a believer is she was non-verbal for the length of time I had known her. I could not walk away without taking this further.”
Inspired by the documentary, Prasco reached out to the Alive Inside Foundation and signed up to be part of its Empathy Revolution, starting an outreach in the community called Song of Deliverance. In addition to using music in her volunteer work with the elderly, her group helps to bring together multiple generations. “The foundation provided the tools and was always available to answer questions and help bring this to our community,” she said. "We are now joining together the elders with dementia and the the youth of today, music being the bridge.”
Last summer, 22 middle and high school students volunteered with Song of Deliverance in an Adopt-an-Elder Program. “We all met weekly and bonds were established. At the end of the program, the youth generated a personalized playlist and saved it to a headset and gave it to their elder,” said Prasco. “The bonds formed were amazing. I asked a few students to share what the program meant to them. Much to my surprise, my believing this program was about helping re-awaken the souls of the elders with dementia, the students wrote about how it helped them with depression and anxieties they were facing. This summer we have about the same amount of students meeting at Cedar Creek Health Campus in Lowell. They have seen the positive effect this has had on dementia residents. At times, the headsets are used when facing difficult times. The music brings comfort and allows the elder to hold onto a bit of self when they have lost the majority of their own identity.”
Besides running the Song of Deliverance outreach program, Prasco is a co-facilitator for an Alzheimer's Caregiver support group that meets on the fourth Tuesday of each month at First United Methodist Church in Lowell.
Prasco played the piano growing up and “always found music to be a great way to change my mood,” she said. “When you hear me singing or music playing, you pretty much know I am in a good mood. The more I thought of this, I started to see exactly how music is able to help the souls of those with dementia be reawakened and memories allowed to flow again. Music does that for most of us, if you really think about it,” she said. “I must stress when working with elders with dementia, it is important to meet them where they are. That is their reality. It is easier for me, as a volunteer to do so. I didn't know the person before that family member did. I am meeting them exactly where they currently are.”