Sister Suzanne Giblin: Music and Memory Program

Sister Suzanne Giblin

Sister Suzanne Giblin, CSJ

by Sister Mary Flick, CSJ

For generations, students have known that listening to music helps the memory. Neuroscience has weighed in with its finding that the music which people consider pleasurable releases dopamine in the brain. Clinical case studies have shown that music can affect human psychological, neurological and physical functioning in areas like learning, processing language, expressing emotion, and memory. Now current research is showing that the areas of the brain where music is processed tend to be less damaged by Alzheimer’s disease. So music therapy and music appreciation is becoming a regular activity in some senior living communities.

And thanks to a gift from the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, the Music and Memory program is now part of the offerings at Cardinal Ritter Senior Services in St. Louis. “We know music is therapeutic and life giving,” said Sister Suzanne Giblin, pastoral care minister at Mary, Queen and Mother Center in Shrewsbury, Missouri. “So we requested funding to experiment with this program.” Sister Suzanne said the program began last fall and has been used with more than 19 residents in the skilled nursing facility and more than 14 residents in assisted living memory care.

Individual iPods are filled with music that is pleasurable to the resident. The resident is fitted with a headset and the music plays for a specified length of time on a regular basis.

“It increases the quality of life for our senior adults, especially those with dementia,” S. Suzanne says. “It makes life more enjoyable, stimulating their minds, hearts, souls – and bodies.” The listening program accommodates the interest of the particular individual. “Some listen to music that they danced to on their wedding night, or music they knew as a teen. Others listen to radio programs, like the Red Skelton Show, that bring back memories. One of our residents listens to the Rosary and spiritual songs. And one dementia resident puts on the headphone and dances!”

“We are finding that the program is best with residents who have dementia, those who are bedridden and those in hospice.” She also notes that it calms the roamers, energizes those who are depressed and helps those who are agitated find contentment.

S. Suzanne says it made sense to ask the Sisters of St. Joseph to help fund this program. “The Music and Memory program enhances our residents’ quality of life. That’s what we’re about as Sisters of St. Joseph in all of our ministries.”

This is a program that personally makes sense for S. Suzanne. “I grew up with music,” she says. “All of my family sang – at home when we were cleaning and doing dishes, or when we celebrated birthdays and holidays, as well as when we were in the car for Sunday outings and family vacations.   The residents are amazed when I know all the words to their songs. I love music and the way it brings us home to ourselves and brings together our dear neighbors – even strangers.”


To enhance the program, volunteers are needed to create the individualized playlists. "Families give us the genre of music. But we need volunteers who can help locate the songs and transfer them to the iPods,” S. Suzanne says.

To volunteer, contact S. Suzanne at or volunteer opportunities on the web at

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