“Music For The Soul:” How A Small Service Project Grew Into An Impressive Research Study

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In December 2016, Aarushi Negi was a Severn School sophomore participating in a small service project at Sunrise of Severna Park’s assisted living facility. Back then, she and a few volunteers would head to Sunrise with donated iPods to play music for the residents with Alzheimer’s. “Through this project, I could interact with these people and see how their quality of life improves,” Negi explained.

Over the course of her high school career, her project has grown immensely. In February 2019, she had 30 to 40 volunteers join her at Sunrise every week. She has expanded in the nursing home to patients with minor cognitive impairment and early-onset Alzheimer’s, not just patients in the dementia unit.

Negi’s project originally involved just community service, but in her senior year, it began becoming more research-based. “In the beginning, it was more of a service project; me and some volunteers would go and give the residents music on iPods,” she explained. “When I got to senior year, I noticed some patterns in the residents’ responses to the music.”

These patterns include an increase in mood and behavior, clearer speech and an increase in complacency with the caregivers.

These patterns encouraged Negi to continue her research and answer a specific question: Does personalized music played to patients with Alzheimer’s increase their life quality over an extended period of time?

So, she began her research. Everyday Negi would go into Sunrise of Severna Park with personalized music for each of the participating residents. She would track the results using three assessment scales: the life satisfaction scale, the brief anxiety and depression scale, and the brief cognitive assessment scale. All three scales were used to measure life satisfaction, mood and cognition, the main Alzheimer’s components that Negi was researching.

Changing from a service project to a research project brought obstacles. She had to get approval from an institutional review board, which would decide whether her project was ethically appropriate. After a few months, she received approval from the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutional Review Board.

Despite the challenges of getting the project started, Negi finds the research process gratifying and eye-opening. “Residents began opening up more and more to me,” she said. “One patient, 102 years old, began bringing up past memories of dancing with her brothers and sisters to jazz music, which was super moving. Also, a lot of residents would cry of happiness during the sessions.”

Negi is a recent graduate of Severn School and will attend Vanderbilt University in the fall. When asked about the future of her project, she didn’t miss a beat. “I’m planning on passing on the project to my sister,” he said. “But on breaks, I plan on continuing the research with her at Sunrise.”

Negi’s sister is Ayanna Negi, an upcoming sophomore at Severn School who has been at Aarushi’s side since the beginning.

She also plans on studying neuroscience at Vanderbilt and hopes to continue her research of Alzheimer’s and dementia while in Nashville. “I’m thinking about pursuing a music and memory club at Vanderbilt and continuing my research of music and the brain,” she added. “I also hope to continue the service aspect and reach out to nursing homes in Nashville.”

For more information on the project, visit www.severnfellow19anegi.weebly.com.

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