Outreach Chaplain Jonathan Scalone has pioneered the use of an iPad in his interactions with dementia patients. An app called Aeolian Harp allows the user to create relaxing animations and sounds without musical knowledge.

The iPad screen can be held in close proximity to the patient, and earphones help carry the sound. The patient can hear the music they make by moving their fingers and see the changes unfold on the screen.

Jonathan recently used the app with Irene, a hospice patient in her 80’s. She used one finger, then multiple fingers to experiment with the mesmerizing images and sounds. Irene’s face lit up once she recognized the connection between her movement and the art being created onscreen. She kept smiling as she continued her drawing and listened to the music. A screenshot of her art is captured here.

Jonathan went on to explore other music on the iPad through YouTube and Pandora, and Irene’s responses helped guide him through their interactions. He discovered that she had a special enjoyment of Elvis and gospel hymns.

No matter what abilities may remain when a patient approaches the end of life, we will continue to value their dignity and personhood – and to communicate in ways that may reach them.