Innovative Music Programs

Making Big Strides in Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care

@Music and Memory

Abundant evidence supports music as a therapy tool for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Research consistently demonstrates that music relevant to a person’s history and experiences can relieve anxiety, stimulate brain activity, increase socialization, and even reduce medications.

So what role can today's technology play in harnessing music to tap into some of our deepest cognitive and spiritual expressions?

Music therapy innovation is an important focus area for the Front Porch Center for Innovation and Wellbeing. We strongly believe that brain health represents a critical dimension to aging and independence. Over the last several months, we piloted two such innovations in memory care in assisted living communities.

SingFit PRIMETM is an award-winning program designed to stimulate cognition and physical movement for an all-body and mind workout. Created by Musical Health Technologies, the company is headed by a team that includes a board-certified music therapist and an internet, technology, and new media specialist.

We evaluated SingFit PRIME at Claremont Manor Retirement Community with residents receiving assisted living and those living in Summer House memory care program to test its usability and impact. Over the course of eight weeks, we found that SingFit PRIME sessions are very effective engagement activities.​

SingFit PRIME features an app that uses a patented “Lyric Coach” to audibly prompt the words of a song to the singing participants—think of it as a listening form of karaoke. In designing thematic playlists of popular and familiar tunes, SingFit PRIME applies its cue-based innovation to hand-picked music based on tempos and genres, and develops multi-level cognitive trivia questions to create vibrant, interactive group sessions.

A staff member leads these sing-alongs, asking questions between songs to prompt memory recall and personal story sharing.

We often invite musicians to play familiar melodies and encourage audience members to sing along. We value how the SingFit PRIME experience encourages active engagement of residents who are especially emotionally and socially withdrawn. Studies demonstrate that participants who sing in groups have significant improvement in sociability, increased positive moods, and overall improvement in their quality of life.

Survey results revealed that SingFit PRIME significantly improved moods, revived memories, and elevated social engagement. Comparing our baseline observations with post-SingFit PRIME sessions, there was an average positive mood increase of 56 percent among our memory care residents, with dramatically higher results with our assisted living participants (81 percent average mood increases). Residents were more cheerful, happy, energized, and socially-engaged. 

Staff members and caregivers also reported that SingFit PRIME sessions prompted residents to share fond memories, promoting a deeper connection between residents and care givers. This is a meaningful outcome that translates to higher quality care and stronger social bonds.

Where SingFit PRIME uses the power of music in group settings to increase socialization, interactivity, and story-telling, MUSIC & MEMORY℠ applies a very simple, innovative approach to engage people with dementia, anxiety, and social withdrawal at the individual level.

MUSIC & MEMORY is a non-profit organization that brings personalized music into the lives of older adults suffering from dementia through digital music technology. The program provides caregivers with an effective and powerful tool to bring dignity to people facing cognitive challenges. Last year, MUSIC & MEMORY was the subject of Alive Inside, a full-length documentary that was the winner of the Audience Award at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.

To be sure, some have challenged the notion that using an iPod® and personalized playlists constitutes “music therapy” because it doesn’t abide by principles and guidelines as they’re practiced by trained therapists (the founder of MUSIC & MEMORY is a social worker). But our goal with this project was to introduce an engagement tool through music that, when appropriately used, could potentially improve a person’s quality of life and enhance the caregiving experience.

The Front Porch Center for Innovation and Wellbeing evaluated MUSIC & MEMORY at Villa Gardens Retirement Community in Pasadena and at St. Barnabas Senior Services, one of the oldest community-based senior centers in Los Angeles. Over a period of four weeks, we measured the impact of MUSIC & MEMORY on residents and caregiver staff and evaluated improvements in overall wellbeing.

Based on recommendations from caregivers and family members, we created individualized song sets on iTunes, and loaded them onto iPods. Personalized playlists are key: while a specific Bing Crosby tune may evoke a joyous recollection at a family gathering for someone, it could also conjure an equally emotional yet upsetting memory for another.

Our results in using the MUSIC & MEMORY program demonstrated:

  • Overall moods improved on average up to 46%
  • 57.1% of our caregivers viewed it effective in reducing disruptive verbal/physical behavior, replaced with better moods
  • Participants who were known to be socially withdrawn were more alert and socially engaged
  • 66.7% of the caregivers observed that the program was substantially effective in reducing and easing pain for the residents

Such is the power of music, as it can revive experiences deeply buried in our sub-consciousness when most of our other cognitive faculties have failed us.

We were delighted to see that the well-known pain management benefits of music therapy were easily realized through this digital music intervention as well. In one case when a resident was undergoing rehab therapy, the participant appeared to focus on her music and did not voice any issues about pain, as she did in past sessions.

Based on these impressive results, and given the low cost barrier and resource investment toward adoption, we’re currently planning to use MUSIC & MEMORY at five additional Front Porch communities.

The rapid changes in technology are ushering in exciting new innovations and approaches to music-based solutions in the treatment and care of people with dementia. So long as we attach music to our memories and lifelong experiences, these technology innovations will continue to find new ways to help us draw them out and rediscover ourselves.

About Davis Park

Davis Park is the director of the Front Porch Center for Innovation and Wellbeing. He develops and directs all of the Center’s initiatives that explore innovative uses of technology to empower individuals to live well, especially in their later years. Front Porch is a not-for-profit organization, based in Glendale, California, that serves individuals and families through full-service retirement, active adult communities, affordable housing communities, and related management and development services. Davis holds a master’s degree from UCLA’s Urban Planning Program and a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from UC Berkeley.

2006, Svansdottir, H.B. and Snaedal, J. “Music therapy in moderate and severe dementia of Alzheimer’s type: A case-control study”.

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