A new Madison nonprofit Bedside DJ aims to provide companionship for the city’s senior citizens.
The U.S. is home to approximately 47 million individuals over the age of 65, making senior citizens nearly 15 percent of the nation’s population today, according to the U.S. census.
As a result of this population boom, geriatric health care in America has struggled to adapt, with the U.S. being ranked lower than other wealthy nations in regard to elderly medical care in an international health survey.
However, of the issues faced today by senior citizens, a prevailing sense of loneliness is among the most common, with 42.6 million older adults reporting a feeling of social disconnect — a fact compounded by the decline of traditional community centers such as churches.
This sense of isolation has a noticeable impact on the physical health of seniors, which can lead to an increased rate of heart disease and stroke, faster cognitive decline and high blood pressure.
In response to this emerging crisis, a number of volunteer programs and nonprofit organizations have sprung up across the nation in order to provide a community to the elderly population.
Recently, Madison has seen one such nonprofit organization, known as Bedside DJ Inc., which works in collaboration with UW Health and Meriter hospitals.
The program was founded by Michigan State graduate Jake Nitzkin this past year and is focused on providing hospitalized senior citizens with music of the individual’s request.
According to Nitzkin, the music, which he plays through a portable speaker, allows for a greater interpersonal connection between the volunteer worker and the patient.
“The music essentially is our foot in the door,” Nitzkin said. “But the companionship that you as a volunteer can have with a patient after spending 15 to 30 minutes with them can find incredibly healing.”
From this established connection, the patient and volunteer are able to discuss topics in a more-organic environment that is more likely to be enjoyable for the patient.
The music requested by elderly patients — typically consisting of songs from their youth — also serves to nostalgically remind the patients of their past, raising their spirits and temporarily alleviating feelings of anxiety, depression or loneliness.
Exposing the elderly to music has been thought to yield positive outcomes by the scientific community, according to a study by the Oxford University Journal. The study claimed music has a positive impact on the elderly’s memory.
Music is also believed to be generally beneficial to overall health, relieving pain, lowering blood pressure and boosting the immune system — all of which contribute to a longer and healthier life.
“Sometimes the [reactions] are really miraculous,” Nitzkin said. “It can be something as simple as ‘you've made my day today — I was really sad and lonely and you gave me a sweet memory.’”
Currently, Bedside DJ Inc. is looking to expand its services within Madison to other local hospitals in order to help the ever-growing population of senior citizens.