NIU club helps Pine Acres’ residents stay connected through pandemic

Set of continuous one line drawing of a musical notes.

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Set of continuous one line drawing of a musical notes.

By Mikayla Magdziarz, Columnist

The NIU chapter of Music & Memory has ensured older people will remain socially connected and in tune with their favorite music, despite isolation caused by COVID-19. 

Music & Memory works with the residents of Pine Acres Rehabilitation Facility, 1212 S. 2nd St., where members work one-on-one with over 49 residents who benefit from one or more of the programs offered by NIU, said Megan Nordstrom, the chapter’s president and third-year communicative disorders major. 

The organization began by focusing on music therapy, especially with residents who have dementia. The process starts with a music assessment where members sit down with a resident and ask them about the music they remember throughout their lifetime. 

“If they’ve been married before, we’ll ask them what songs were popular at the time of their wedding or songs played at their high school prom,” Nordstrom said. “It is more difficult for residents with dementia to remember music from their past. In those instances, Music & Memory works with the families to build custom playlists filled with songs that are usually from their late teens and early twenties, (which) are formative developmental stages.” 

Each resident in the program gets their own iPod Shuffle and can listen either solo using headphones or on a speaker. 

“You can physically see their mood change,” Nordstrom said. “They just light up when they hear their music.” 

2020 was a big year for Music & Memory. When the pandemic began prohibiting residents from seeing the club members, it did not stop the music from circulating inside Pine Acres. With help from the dedicated staff members, residents were able to continue receiving their playlists.

Last year’s challenges also inspired new methods for Music & Memory to engage with its residents at a safe distance. “Memory Books” are the organization’s newest tool to help connect residents with their memories and relationships through curating books of personal photographs. 

Zoom Pals and Virtual Bridge Choir are two additional programs introduced in 2020. In Zoom Pals, residents participate in group Zoom calls with NIU students and form their own breakout groups where they can speak with each other more personably. 

Music & Memory is seeking to expand its volunteer base throughout 2021 and beyond, Nordstrom said. To get involved with NIU’s chapter of Music & Memory, contact the organization by email at