Music Therapy For Dementia: Awakening Memories

Ann Napoletan
By Ann NapoletanOctober 11, 2017

Many of us have either heard or seen the incredible effects that music can have on people with dementia.

Learn more about the Music & Memory Program, a non-profit organization bringing personalized music to seniors to “vastly improve [their] quality of life.” Thus far, the program has provided iPods to over 140 residences in North America.

The Music & Memory Program

The world was introduced to the Music & Memory organization through a YouTube video that went viral upon its release. The video featured a senior, Henry, who had suffered from dementia for a decade and was very withdrawn, unable to communicate… until Music & Memory gave him an iPod loaded with music from his era.

Suddenly, the man who barely spoke comes to life, reminiscing about how much he had loved dancing and listening to music in his younger years. It’s an incredibly compelling video.

The clip is part of a documentary on the Music & Memory Program, which not only provides seniors with iPods and gives them access to music, but also educates family caregivers and senior care professionals on how to create powerful personalized playlists to help people with Alzheimer’s and dementia reconnect with memories triggered by music.

Dr. Laura Mosqueda, Director of Geriatrics at the University of California, Irvine School of Medicine, explains that because music affects so many parts of the brain, it touches areas that may not be damaged by the disease and brings those pathways to the forefront. The result is the astounding “awakening” that often occurs.

Seeing Is Believing

Testimonials really tell Music & Memory’s story best. A caregiver from Valley Stream, New York, said:

“Patients with anxiety and depression are less agitated and appear calmer. The music transports them to a happier place in their minds.”

Another reported how “one gentleman who had a diagnosis of failure to thrive actually gained weight and began taking an interest in the world after he started using the device.”

Overall, senior care homes report that residents are more engaged and much happier with the use of music therapy. They note that staff members are able to create more meaningful relationships with patients, spending less time dealing with behavioral issues. Perhaps most encouraging, some residences are actually seeing a reduction in the need for psychotropic drugs, which carry with them a set of problems all their own.

Ways You Can Help

Tony Lewis, President and CEO of Cobble Hill Health Care in Brooklyn, may have said it best:

“Despite the enormous sums of money spent on behavior altering medications that are often not particularly effective, nothing compares to these iPods when it comes to improving quality of life.”

If you’re interested in locating a certified Music & Memory care home or residence in your area, visit the website’s Care Facility Partners page.

You can support this important work by donating a gently used iPod or similar device to the organization. Learn more about the simple process on the Music & Memory homepage.

We’d love to hear more about your experience using music therapy for dementia. Share your stories with us in the comments below.

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Ann Napoletan

Ann Napoletan

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