Music & Memory—An Organization Using iPods for Dementia Patients



Those who are suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s and who need the type of around the clock care that nursing homes offer use iPods to revisit their past. Listening to songs from their past on the revolutionary music listening device has brought many seniors out of their shells, and it was all started in 2008 by a social worker from Long Island, NY named Dan Cohen.


Cohen distributed 200 iPods to four nursing homes in or near Long Island and he observed that patients became more active, social, and visibly happier while listening to music from their past. One video that went viral on YouTube shows Henry, a 94 year old nursing home patient, given an iPod and going from unresponsive to interactive. In the video, Henry states, “I’m crazy about music, beautiful music, beautiful sound.”


Because of the reactions dementia patients had to listening to iPods, Cohen founded Music & Memory, a non-profit organization dedicated to collecting donated iPods and giving them to nursing homes for use with their patients. iPod donations can be given directly to the Music & Memory website, but there are also donation boxes located at Broadway Theaters in New York. In an interview with the technology blog Mashable, Dan Cohen stated, “I knew music was the number one activity in nursing homes, so I asked if we could see if there would be any added value if we personalized it.” Instead of having residents sit and listen to music chosen for the

entire group, Music & Memory allows individuals to listen to the music of their choice on their own time. “In nursing homes, you’re used to listening to whatever’s played for you,” Cohen says. “When we cater iPods for individuals, we end up with just songs that resonate with people, uplift them, and calm them down.”


Currently, there are more than 50 nursing homes in 15 states using Cohen’s iPods to bring music to their patients. A documentary, Alive Inside, directed by Michael Rossato-Bennett, chronicles the Music & Memory project and its impact on dementia patients’ lives. It is due to be released in September 2013, pending donations.


Music & Memory trains nursing home staff, professional caregivers, and even family caregivers how to create personalized iPod playlists for their patients or loved ones suffering from Alzheimer’s, dementia, and other challenges. According to their website, “Favorite music or songs associated with important personal events can trigger memory of lyrics and the experience connected to the music. Beloved music often calms chaotic brain activity and enables the listener to focus on the present moment and regain a connection to others.” Focusing on the present enables these patients to revisit memories calmly, while also anchoring themselves in the present. They aim to create a network of care facilities that work together to provide the devices needed to bring happy memories back to their patients. This type of work is important to help caregivers connect with their patients and loved ones on the patient’s own terms.

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