In 2011, the video of an elderly man awakening from his catatonic state as he heard the music of his era went viral. After listening to Cab Calloway, he could express himself in ways his family hadn’t seen in years. The organization that brought him that joy and awakened his faculties was Music & Memory.
A non-profit founded in 2010, Music & Memory advocates for the use of personalized music to improve the lives of anyone who struggles with cognitive impairments, particularly dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. The organization secures funding and provides approximately 200 to 300 donated iPods each month to assisted living facilities, nursing homes, hospitals, home care providers, and more. Through webinars and training, Music & Memory teaches professionals in these facilities to create developed music programs to serve those in need. Executive director Dan Cohen specializes in the creation of the program and the curated playlists that light up the faces of old souls.
“It helps reduce depression; it helps reduce anxiety; it helps people ease off certain anti-depressants, anti-psychotics, or anti-anxiety medications,” Cohen says. “If there’s music in the house, things go better.”
Prior to Music & Memory, over 16,000 nursing homes in the U.S. did not provide any mode for individual or personalized listening to their residents.
“Everybody has access to a TV set, why can’t they have access to a less expensive iPod with their music?” Cohen asks.
Cohen teamed up with music icon Carole King (inspiration for Broadway’s Beautiful: The Carole King Musical) to raise awareness for the program. Just recently, Tony-winning actors Annaleigh Ashford and Jessie Mueller, as well as Tony-winning composer-lyricist Cyndi Lauper also climbed aboard.
Cohen feels Broadway stars know the power of music better than anyone and recruited them as natural allies for his organization.
“For people with dementia, it’s all about music that holds personal meaning,” Cohen says. “What could hold more personal meaning than when someone saw the original Hello, Dolly! [and they hear that music]?”
Cohen asks the patients: “Did you go to Broadway musicals? Did you see a musical? Did you perform in a musical?” Generating a playlist of songs from those musicals—those cherished experiences—is irreplaceable therapy. “You give them the whole soundtrack and then it’s blissful for people.”
Music & Memory hopes to create a world inside the headphones that elders can then share and build new relationships. Volunteer students spend time with the nursing home residents using headphone splitters to shape an experience.
The organization now operates in all 50 states, Canada, Australia, Europe, Israel, and South Africa. Music & Memory has been called “the most effective way to improve life for people with dementia” by state governments.
Whether struggling with a diagnosis or not, Cohen says everyone should have a playlist set up for their elders. Should a family member or friend enter the health care system at any time, their loved one’s music is ready to go and so are their memories.
Watch the previously published message from Carole King:
To donate and learn more about Music & Memory, click here.