iPods A Miracle for People With Alzheimer’s
matter what our age, it’s a safe assumption that music plays a
significant role in our lives.
From the earliest nursery rhymes we learned as toddlers through the rebellious teenage years and on to romantic and family relationships over the decades, hearing a familiar melody can instantly take us back to another time and place.
on the brains of people with dementia has shown that, even when they
are no longer able to communicate verbally or recognize loved ones,
they may still respond to their favorite music, often dramatically,
and typically remembering all the lyrics to the songs played.
Many people witnessed this first hand recently when a video of Henry, an elderly nursing home patient, went viral on YouTube. It has been viewed by more than six million people.
Long-term care facilities are well aware of music’s benefits, often scheduling a variety of musical entertainment programs for residents. However, it has been found that songs that carry emotional memories for individual patients are the most effective.
One approach to reconnecting persons with Alzheimer’s with beloved musical memories would be to provide them with individualized music they can listen to whenever they want. It’s critical to provide them with the music they loved most before developing Alzheimer’s.
That might seem a daunting task for nursing homes and caregivers. However, that didn’t stop Dan Cohen, a Long Island social worker who, in 2006, envisioned creating specific iPod playlists for each resident of a local nursing facility.
When introducing iPods in nursing homes proved tremendously successful in reducing agitation, improving behavior mood and social interaction, he set out to formalize the program, establishing Music and Memory. This is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the quality of life by mainstreaming and promoting the use of personalized digital music.
Cohen’s ultimate goal is for the use of unique playlists on iPods to become part of the standard of care for all people with Alzheimer’s.
The Music and Memory program is currently being carried out in hundreds of nursing homes nationwide, and it continues to expand rapidly. It has even been picked up in several foreign countries.
According to Cohen, Peter Davies, PhD, who helped develop Aricept, says, “The results of this program are stunning. If you could put this into a pill it would be a multimillion dollar blockbuster.”
How to Get Started With Your Own Loved One
As an initial step, inquire whether the facility already has an iPod program for residents in place. If they do, see if your relative can participate. You can help by providing input on what would be the best musical selections.
Once your relative is connected to an iPod and his or her favorite music, incorporate music into your visits so that you can enjoy the pleasure your relative receives from the music.
If the facility does not have an iPod program already set up, you can create the experience for your loved one.
First, bring an iPod from home and try it out. The key is creating a playlist that your relative will love. See if they are able to tell you their favorite artists or styles of music.
If necessary, ask other family members and friends if they can remember what artists or types of music your loved one enjoyed.
You should assess your relative’s ability to handle the listening device, e.g., know how to click the “Play/Pause” button on and off. You and/or a staff member may need to aid your relative in this.
Involving the staff who care for your relative, or someone from the Activities Department, could be very helpful.
Try to assemble between 80 and 100 songs (10-15 artists) initially. Timing is also important. You may even want to consider setting up more than one playlist for different times of the day and different moods.
It has been shown that those with Alzheimer’s disease will become more alert, engaged and talkative if familiar music is played regularly month after month.
Amazingly, some long-term care facilities have even found that antipsychotic medications can be reduced by 50% when iPods are used throughout the facility.
Furthermore, since the use of iPods decreases agitation – one of the primary reasons people with Alzheimer’s are moved to nursing homes in the first place - many patients can remain in their homes longer.
According to Cohen, “the result for all concerned is easier interactions, less resistance to care and transitions, your enjoyment and reward of seeing your loved one doing better and responding to the positive power of the music.”
It is truly heartening to see musical memories help your relative maintain his or her identity when other connections may be fading or gone. Cohen continues, “It’s a big win—people are stimulated, engaged, more alert for longer periods of time and want to share the music, creating a real spike in social interaction.”
How You Can Help
You can participate in Cohen’s nationwide campaign to collect iPods by donating your gently used old iPod to the cause.
Send it to Music and Memory, 160 First Street, PO Box 590, Mineola, NY 11501. Go to the www.musicandmemory.org website for specific shipping instructions.