People have long touted the healing powers of music, but just how true is that claim? The Alzheimer Society of Toronto, Canada put a great deal of weight into the belief and launched a new program dedicated to providing music to seniors with dementia in their area.

Inspired by Henry dementia patients and music

The program, dubbed the iPod Project, was inspired after a screening of a film called “Alive Inside”, which documents the effect of music on dementia patients, one in particular named Henry, whose story you can watch on YouTube.

The documentary was produced by an organization called Music & Memory, whose mission, according to their website, is to “bring personalized music into the lives of the elderly or infirm through digital music technology, vastly improving quality of life”.

After staff at the Alzheimer Society Toronto saw the film, they decided to join the effort and take part in the program. They collaborated with the Music & Memory team and created the iPod Project for dementia patients living in Toronto.

Dementia Patients and Music

In order to qualify for the iPod Project, either the caregiver or the dementia patient must reside in Toronto. A formal diagnosis of dementia is required and the caregiver must agree to provide feedback via surveys to help the Society assess the effectiveness of the program. Once the applicant has been approved, the Society provides an iPod shuffle with headphones, music credit, and technical assistance to help the caregiver download songs and manage the device.

The iPod Project will help caregivers tailor playlists to the favorite music of the patient. These favorite songs often have calming effects on the dementia patients, who may otherwise get agitated, upset, or simply be isolated and unresponsive. Participants in the project have reported having success with the program and the Society is tracking all of the feedback and effects that it is having on both patients and caregivers.

Music & Memory bases their organization on extensive neuroscience research that has shown the power of music on the mind. A recent study published this year in Science discovered that music activates several different parts of the brain, including those associated with pleasure, processing emotion, and abstract decisionmaking. This makes sense based on the fact that many caregivers have found that upon listening to music, their loved ones suddenly re-emerge, animated and engaged. Dementia patients who rarely uttered a word in the past are now speaking and being present in the moment, thanks to the seemingly miraculous power of music.
dementia patients and music

Take Action

The Alzheimer Society of Toronto is one of 140 different organizations and facilities helping connect dementia patients and music through Music & Memory’s programs. Visit the Alzheimer Society of Toronto website if you are interested in learning more about the organization and its efforts.

Dementia currently affects more than 5 million Americans and is the leading reason for needing long term care. Planning for the risk can help save you from some of the emotional distress associated with long term care, and can significantly reduce the financial impact. Read more about reasons people need long term care and the link between dementia and long term care.