Feel Good Moment of the Day: Music and Memory

Posted by Courtney Larned

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Apr 4, 2013 2:55:00 PM

One of the perks of traveling as much as I do is the fact that I rarely miss an issue of Southwest Airline's Spirit Magazine.  If you haven't had the opportunity to read it, I highly suggest that you immediately book a vacation.  Or check it out online. Spirit Magazine always leaves me thinking about an idea, a quote, or something I can do to make the world a better place.

Which is why tripping over the March 2013 article, How Sweet the Sound, resonated so powerfully with me.  I grew up with music being an enormous part of my life, have an iPod filled with the most random sampling of musical genres you could possibly imagine, can probably tell you what outfit I was wearing and how I was feeling for each and every song I've ever downloaded on iTunes (and there are lots), and find myself socializing with people who majored in things like Behavioral Music Therapy.   While my day job doesn't necessarily let my passion for music shine, it's there.

song memory

The focus of this article?  Personalized music playlists being used in nursing homes and long-term care facilities to help the elderly experience the music that carries personal significance in their life.

Music & Memory, a nonprofit in New York, is working to make personalized music a standard in long-term care facilities.  To date, there are over 60 long-term care and nursing home facilities that have implemented the Music & Memory program (started in 2008), providing the elderly patients with customized playlists, typically linked to their past, on iPods.

Research has found that, despite the debilitating results of Alzheimer's and other cognitive disorders, the part of the brain that recalls music tends to stay mostly intact. The people who suffer from these disorders enjoy the tunes from their past, and often recall the memories linked to them. 

"Even when people with advanced dementia no longer recognize their own family, or no longer have the ability to speak, if they hear a song from their youth that's familiar to them, they'll come 'awake,' come 'alive,;" says Dan Cohen, the founder of Music & Memory.

The stories highlighted in the article brought tears (of happiness) to my eyes, knowing that these patients are blessed with an opportunity to recall the memories of their life outside of the nursing home.  Memories of children, concerts, spouses, friends, weddings, birthdays--think of it!

Well before I had old iPods around my house, I watched my able-bodied grandfather's mind die prematurely from dementia.   Tonight, I sit here wondering if he'd had access to the music from his past, like when he and my grandmother went square dancing, or the songs from the ball park, the Patsy Cline records we'd listen to at dinner in the summer, or the pop music on in the diner he went to every morning, if that would have impacted his last years of life. 

Since there is no way to really know, I am going to assume yes, and I am going to pledge to get the since-replaced iPods out of my house, and into the hands of someone who can make a difference with them.

If you're caring for a family member who could benefit from this type of therapy, let me know, and I'll help you pull the playlist together.  If you have an iPod collecting dust around your house, please ship it to Music & Memory. 

I believe that music is so powerful, and heals us on so many levels, and to see the science that shows its effectiveness in bringing joy to patients?  Truly makes my day.

Topics: family health

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