That perfect song can take you back to your high school prom or a childhood summer vacation…it can make you feel the same way you did when you were first falling in love with your spouse or recall the comfort of your mother’s arm cradling you as she sang you to sleep.
Music can also help those living with dementia to connect with the world and stimulate memory. That’s what the nonprofit program Music & Memory℠ seeks to do. According to their website, “We train nursing home staff and other elder care professionals, as well as family caregivers, how to create and provide personalized playlists using iPods and related digital audio systems that enable those struggling with Alzheimer’s, dementia and other cognitive and physical challenges to reconnect with the world through music-triggered memories.”
Music & Memory was founded by Dan Cohen, whose original idea of giving residents iPods with personalized playlists grew from a single nursing home in 2006 to hundreds of sites throughout the United States and Canada today, including more than 30 CALA-member communities and two associate members of CALA.
CALA featured the work of one member in the Winter 2016 issue of CALA News & Views. In the article, Christi Casillas, Director of Life Enrichment for Revere Court explained how something as simple as a beloved song from the past can help. “For those suffering with Alzheimer’s, more recent memories are compromised, but memories from our teenage years can be well-preserved. Favorite tunes have the ability to tap deep memories not lost to dementia…promoting conversation and socialization and, most importantly, enabling the individual to stay present and in the moment.” Even with residents in later stages of the disease, she adds, “We have seen time and again the transformation. Residents who are withdrawn and unaware of their surroundings become present and reconnect with others.”
This transformation was also captured in the 2012 documentary about the Music & Memory program, Alive Inside. According to the Music & Memory website, a video clip from the documentary showing a resident named Henry coming to life while listening to some of his favorite music went viral. We featured news about the documentary here on the blog when it won the Audience Award at Sundance in 2014.
And at CALA’s Fall Conference & Trade Show this past October, attendees got another chance to learn more about the documentary, the program, and the overall power of music in the intensive session “The Transformative Power of Music Engagement.” Session presenters included Michael Rossato-Bennett, director of Alive Inside, as well as Grace Starr, Director of Sales for Sonoma Senior Living, a CALA member working with the Alive Inside Foundation.
Providers interested in bringing Music & Memory to residents in their community should visit Music & Memory’s Elder Care Professionals resource page, which includes information on the Music & Memory certification program and a free downloadable guide, “Making the Case for Personalized Music: A Guide for Elder Care Professionals.”