Alive Inside - How Custom Playlists on Ipods Are Enhancing Activities

@Music and Memory

Remember your last really bad day at work? Feeling frustrated, maybe sad, and perhaps even angry at the end of the day? And then remember getting in your car, starting the engine and suddenly your favorite song from high school is blasting through the radio speakers. The next thing you know, you are singing, smiling and your mood has totally changed! Imagine recreating that atmosphere for elders. That is the idea behind Music and Memory, a non-profit company that is improving the quality of life of the elderly and ill through iPod based personalized music.

Their work became viral through the Alive Inside documentary. Google it!

Dan Cohen, MSW, Executive Director of Music & Memory has proven music can lift spirits, lower stress and heart rate and even reduce pain levels in patients.

Most important for activity professionals working with residents with dementia, science has shown that music has this same mood altering power even as other cognitive abilities diminish.

Explaining how the brain reacts to a familiar piece of music, the late Gene D. Cohen, MD, PhD, who served as director of the Center on Aging, Health and Humanities at George Washington University, said there is an unmistakable power of music to fire up the brain’s recall abilities.

Memories are created when clusters of hundreds or thousands of neurons fire in a unique pattern,” Cohen writes in his book The Mature Mind. He further explains that when you hear a catchy song your brain neurons light up.

Later, when you hear the same song again, those original memory patterns are automatically strengthened. “The more often a particular pattern is stimulated, the more sensitive and permanent are the connections between the neurons in the pattern,” Cohen writes. “Not only does learning link neurons in new patterns, it also stimulates neurons to grow new connections.”

This is the idea, and the proven success behind Music and Memory.

Cohen came up with the idea for Music and Memory in 2006 while listening to his car radio. The non-profit was started in 2010.

“I was listening to a news reporter on the radio saying how iPods were ubiquitous. I thought, well, one day if I'm in a nursing home, I'd want all my music with me. So I did an internet search for nursing homes and iPods and came up empty. So I called a local government nursing home and said I know that music is already your number one recreational activity, but let's see if there is any added value to totally personalizing a person's music,” Cohen said.

Working with staff, Cohen, using donated ipods, constructs very specific song playlists for a resident. As one video on their site explains, a “challenging” resident, former military, was a big proponent of music from the WWII era and particularly patriotic songs. So his ipod playlist included the Navy and Army songs and much more. His reaction the first time he heard the playlist – he saluted. You get the idea.

Music and Memories is based on the findings from several research projects, including how familiar music helps persons with Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia by lifting their mood, reducing anxiety and agitation as well as the perception of pain.

The organization’s goal is to make the application of iPod-based personalized music a standard of care in all long-term care facilities and for individuals receiving care at home.

Feedback from activity directors and their residents using Music & Memory shows this program is a relatively easy way to improve mood, cooperation, attention, engagement and reduce agitation in residents with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

‘The IPod program from Music and Memory is truly something unique. Bringing entertainment into the facility for music for one hour is nice but ultimately doesn’t please everyone I can honestly say that this is one program that everyone gets to choose what they like and is happy with the result," said Susan Crossley ADC, Director of Recreation at the Oaks at Bethany Village in Mechanicsburg Penn.

”We have seen a documented decrease in the use of anti-anxiety medications with this program. If anxious residents are calmer then staff is calmer, the other residents don’t shadow those behaviors. This has occurred for us just two months into the program! We are convinced that we may be able to do dose reductions on some antidepressant medications also. The joy at hearing my clients recalling memories that they thought were lost but showed up again because they were listening to their favorite song, has been icing on the cake.”

Music for Memories accepts donations of iPods as well as financial contributions to help the non-profit reach more individual who could benefit from the program.

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