Music & Memory

Music & Memory Logo LargeMUSIC & MEMORY℠ is a non-profit organization that brings personalized music into the lives of the elderly or infirm through digital music technology, vastly improving quality of life.

We train nursing home staff and other elder care professionals, as well as family caregivers, how to create and provide personalized playlists using iPods and related digital audio systems that enable those struggling with Alzheimer’s, dementia and other cognitive and physical challenges to reconnect with the world through music-triggered memories.

By providing access and education, and by creating a network of MUSIC & MEMORY℠ Certified organizations, we aim to make this form of personalized therapeutic music a standard of care throughout the health care industry.

How Music & Memory Began

Executive Director Dan Cohen founded Music & Memory with a simple idea: Someday, if he ended up in a nursing home, he wanted to be able to listen to his favorite ‘60s music. He’d heard a recent news report about how iPods have grown so popular. Why not bring used iPods as well as new ones into nursing homes to provide personalized music for residents?

When Dan had his brainstorm in 2006, he discovered that none of the 16,000 long-term care facilities in the U.S. used iPods for their residents. Drawing on his background in leveraging technology to benefit those who would otherwise have no access, he volunteered at a local nursing home in Greater New York, creating personalized playlists for residents. The program was a hit with residents, staff and families, and became the prototype for a bigger effort.

With funding from the Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation in 2008, Dan brought 200 iPods to residents of four New York long-term care facilities and tested the program on a larger scale. Successful outcomes spurred the creation of Music & Memory as a 501(c)(3) non-profit in 2010.

Following Years

Since then, we have implemented iPod personalized music programs in hundreds of care organizations throughout the U.S. and Canada. A 2011 matching grant outreach effort provided digital music players, headphones, music, training and support to qualifying organizations and has significantly helped to advance our mission.

In April 2012, a documentary about our work, Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory, was previewed at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York City. A video clip of Henry, one of the residents reawakened by listening to his Cab Calloway favorites, went viral, now with more than 11 million views, boosting awareness and enthusiastic interest in our program.

As word of the benefits of personalized music spread, in 2013, Wisconsin’s Department of Health Services launched the Wisconsin Music & Memory Initiative, enabling 100 nursing homes throughout the state to become MUSIC & MEMORY℠ Certified Care Organizations and bring personalized playlists to their residents. In fall 2014, an additional 150 organizations received certification training. Other states are following in Wisconsin’s footsteps, significantly broadening the impact of our program. We are also broadening our approach to serve individuals in hospice care, adult day care, assisted living, hospital and home health care.

Beyond the United States, Music & Memory is gaining ground in Canada, Europe and elsewhere around the world. In January 2014, Alive Inside was screened at the Sundance Film Festival to enthusiastic reviews and won the Audience Award for U.S. Documentaries. More film festival awards have followed, and the documentary received accolades at theatrical releases across the U.S. The outpouring of interest and support for our work gives us great hope that our vision of personalized music as a gold standard of long-term care will be realized.

Brain-Music Connection

As we all know from hearing that song associated with a first love or leaving home for good, music is profoundly linked to personal memories. In fact, our brains are hard-wired to connect music with long-term memory. 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.

Contact Hannah Couch to find our more about supporting the Hubbard Hill Music & Memory Program.

Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory