Submitted by Dementia Friendly Pierce County LCSNW.
Amy Wigstrom can do anything she sets her mind to. Sit down with her for 15 minutes, and you will learn how she came to music and follows her passion for helping others.
Amy is the newest member of the Dementia Services team at Lutheran Community Services Northwest (LCSNW) joining us as the new Music and Memories Instructor. With a father pastor for a father and a mother who played the piano and organ and conducted the church choir, it was natural that Amy would have music as part of her life including playing the trumpet and French horn. Amy attended Pacific Lutheran University to study music and vocal performance, spent a year in Vienna, and earned a degree in Music Education.
Amy taught music and drama in public schools and has worked with the Seattle opera, the Sun Valley Center of the Arts, and the Tacoma Symphony. When her father survived a heart attack, Amy was drawn to the mission of the American Heart Association. As the Executive Director there, her family perspective gave her focus, empathy and a desire to improve people’s lives.
In 2009, her mother began to have tremors. Eventually, she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s and later dementia and moved into memory care. There were many activities provided but the sing along sessions were particularly treasured by Amy and her mom. Amy quickly realized the impact that music had on her mother’s demeanor, her anxiety, and her overall well being.
“The music would help her find her way back,” Amy says, “When we would play music and sing together, it was as if she was more like herself again.”
Music sessions together became their memories. In her room, at her bedside, they would listen to their favorite songs and talk about the first time they heard them or the meaning they had in their lives. They would sing together, laugh, and just be together. Then, as her mother began to decline, her last words during one such visit were “ I don’t know how to tell you how much I love you.” Such profound moments are the treasured memories that Amy has carried with her since her mother passed away. The moments of lucid expression of love and sharing the joy of music.
When Amy saw the job posting for the Music and Memories program with LCSNW, she thought to herself, “This is me. I can use my experience to help people.” And LCSNW couldn’t agree more.
Amy immediately went about educating herself for the challenge. She read, she researched, and she attended similar music classes held for people living with dementia. Even though she doesn’t have a medical or music therapy background, Amy’s family perspective gave her an insight, a drive, a passion along with her Music Education degree. You can hear it in her voice as she describes the program she’ll be heading.
“We are getting to know the participants and selecting customized music, listening excerpts, and movement opportunities for the sessions.” Music from many eras, styles, and fun things like the YMCA or the Brady Bunch theme song, as well as classical music listening sessions, movement, and seasonal songs. Each session we also do a Music and Memories moment where participants share about an experience they had with music or show-and-tell a special item like an album cover or program from a musical. “We’re creating moments of joy,” Amy says.
The Music and Memories program for residents of Pierce County is currently virtual and will involve take-home music kits with hand percussion instruments. Amy is excited for in-person sessions in the future because there is a large collection of drums and instruments that can be utilized. And if you or a loved one is living with dementia you can be excited too. Amy Wigstrom is pouring her heart into the Music and Memories program, and helping your loved ones is exactly what she wants to be doing.