For so many people, the music we listen to from childhood to adulthood is not just something playing in the background, but the bonding of music and memories. Every song is a scribbled note in the margin of a diary and the music of our lives becomes a soundtrack to the emotional scrapbooks we keep in our heads. Some songs have stronger memories attached than others. The obvious ones are tunes that remind us of emotional moments in our lives; romance, happiness, milestones. Some songs remind us of certain days or specific people. The simple playing of a particular tune can open up a page in that scrapbook and we’re suddenly ten or twenty or thirty again, reliving a moment from our lives.
Music & Memory, a Long Island based organization, has taken the idea of music’s connection with our lives and brought it to a new level. Building on the theory that music triggers memories, founder Dan Cohen established a program to get iPods donated to nursing homes to provide music-related therapy to patients suffering from Alzheimer’s or other illnesses that cause dementia.
From the Music & Memory site:
Even for persons with severe dementia, music can tap deep emotional recall. For individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s, memory for things—names, places, facts—is compromised, but memories from our teenage years can be well-preserved.
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.
Persons with dementia, Parkinson’s and other diseases that damage brain chemistry also reconnect to the world and gain improved quality of life from listening to personal music favorites.
I had the opportunity to ask Cohen a few questions about Music & Memory.
What prompted you to start this program?
DC: Six years ago, I heard a journalist state that iPods were ubiquitous. Although that may seem true for many young people, what happens once you are living in a care facility of some sort? An Internet search of iPods and nursing homes revealed that not one of the 16,000 nursing homes in the US made iPods available to their residents. I reached out to a nearby nursing home acknowledging that music is already an important recreation activity, but coud we see if there was any added value if we were to totally personalize one’s music. This was an immediate and definitive hit.
How many nursing homes participate in Music & Memory?
DC: More than 60 nursing homes and care facilities in the United States.
What’s the best way for people to donate iPods?
DC: New and gently used iPods in working condition can be mailed to Music & Memory (160 First Street, PO Box 590, Mineola, NY, 11501). More information here and instructions below.
1. Help us even more by paying the postage, if you can!
2. Deactivate iPod(s) and turn off power.
3. Place iPod and charger cord in the smallest envelope or box possible with adequate padding. Keep the earbuds. We supply residents with headphones.
4. Seal the package, affix the mailing label and drop in the mail.
Our mailing address: Music & Memory, 160 First Street, PO Box 590, Mineola, NY, 11501.
Trained elder care professionals set up iPods or other music devices with personal playlists created specifically for each patient. An evaluation of the program showed that residents who participated in Music & Memory were happier and more social. It has allowed thousands of patients reconnected with family and friends.
In April of 2012, a documentary about the organization, Alive Inside: The Story of Music and Memory, screened at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York City. This clip of a patient named Henry listening to his favorite Cab Calloway songs went viral.
In an NPR interview, Cohen said of Henry, ”He is able to actually answer questions and speak about his youth, and this is sort of the magic of music that’s familiar for those with dementia. Even though Alzheimer’s and various forms of dementia will ravage many parts of the brain, long-term memory of music from when one was young remains very often. So if you tap that, you really get that kind of awakening response. It’s pretty exciting to see.”
In addition to donating iPods, you can also volunteer with Music & Memory.
Michele Catalano (Forbes) / March 15, 2013