A musical gift that changes lives

This year, instead of giving a gift card from a favorite bookstore or a DVD from the Met Opera Christmas and New YearShop, how about giving an iPod or donation to Music and Memory in the name of that special someone?  A non-profit organization, Music and Memory brings music to the elderly and disabled, particularly those with Alzheimer’s, and the results have been nothing short of amazing. 

Music and Memory was founded in 2010 by visionary Dan Cohen, a social worker with a background in high tech training.  A few years earlier, Cohen had decided that if he ended up in a nursing home, he wanted to be able to listen to his favorite music. iPods were becoming increasingly popular, and he had a brainstorm about bringing iPods with personalized playlists to residents in nursing homes.

At the time, he discovered that none of the 16,000 nursing care facilities in the US used iPods for their residents, so he founded Music and Memory;  the non-profit has been responsible for implementing iPod personalized music programs in hundreds of care facilities in the US and Canada.

Although Cohen was quite certain that listening to music would be helpful therapy, no one could have predicted how amazingly successful it would be.

The documentary, Alive Inside, follows the work of Cohen and his iPod program and powerfully demonstrates music’s ability to combat memory loss. The winner of the Audience Award for U.S. Documentaries at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival and released to theaters in the U.S. in July,  the film has remarkable and inspiring footage of Alzheimers patients who come alive when portrait of a senior woman listening to musiclistening to iPods personalized with music that has been important to them at earlier times in their lives.

The change from literally no interaction with others to being lively and engaged seems almost magical.  But it isn’t magic.  Neuroscientists say that the many parts of the brain involved in music listening and the memories associated with that music are usually not the areas of the brain that are affected by Alzheimers, so even though someone suffering from Alzheimers may be unable to interact with the world most of the time, listening to music actually activates many areas of their brains.  They are able to recall memories that are unavailable to them without music acting as a trigger.

You can donate a  “gently used iPod” to Music and Memory, or make a donation to support the creation of individualized playlists or the purchase of new iPods.

And if you want to see the miraculous stories of some of these people who have come alive by listening to music, check the  Alive Inside website for locations of a screening near you, purchase the DVD from Amazon, or download the film on iTunes.   Watching this uplifting film will make you feel good, and a donation to Music and Memory may be the most meaningful holiday gift you give.

Wishing you a holiday full of music, merriment, and happy memories!


Photo credits:  © katyamaximenko/Fotolia.com,  © Hunor Kristo/Fotolia.com

4 responses to “A musical gift that changes lives”

  1. Paavali Jumppanen Avatar
    Paavali Jumppanen

    This is a wonderful initiative, Lois! Apart from appreciating the iPods to nursing homes project, this makes me again wonder on why music can have such a constructive role in human brain wellbeing. We’ve been told that listening to classical music can have positive effects in development of children’s brain and this post makes a reference to Alzheimer’s patients gaining help from listening to music. Surely a huge field of its own, it would be nice to hear what you think are some of the key factors in the positive interaction between our neural system and the outside sonic organism we call music?

    Happy New Year!

    1. Lois Avatar

      Thanks, Paavali. Evidence is mounting that we are hardwired for music as we are for language, so it seems to be an essential part of who we are. Yesterday, I began rereading Anthony Storr’s Music and the Mind. Although the book is over 20 years old and a lot has been discovered about the neural basis of music since Storr wrote it, he still makes a powerful case for music uniting the mind and body. Happy New Year to you also, and looking forward to seeing you soon.

  2. Paavali Jumppanen Avatar
    Paavali Jumppanen

    Thanks for the answer, Lois! The language argument makes a lot of sense. Interestingly music itself has many parallels with languages on many different levels, as you very well know. In teaching music we often talk about phrases, narratives, and even intonation, all of which are linguistic concepts. But here of course the “music” we talk about is a physical system. We’ve being told by recent studies that Mozart’s music is good for the development of young brain, although many musics will almost certainly do the same trick. But could it also be imagined that some kind of “music” might be harmful? Like Plato suggested… 😉

    1. Lois Svard Avatar

      Paavali, the relationship between language and music is a heavily studied topic, most notably by Aniruddh Patel (Music, Language, and the Brain). And there is increasing speculation that music came first, language second. I like the idea that music was first!!