Music and Memory

The documentary film Alive Inside directed by Michael Rossoto Bennett features Dan Cohen and follows him as he visits nursing homes and long-term care facilities throughout the country with his music and memory project. With the residents he plays music from iTunes, not just any music but that which will trigger memories and activate cognition. […]

Music and Memory

The documentary film Alive Inside directed by Michael Rossoto Bennett features Dan Cohen and follows him as he visits nursing homes and long-term care facilities throughout the country with his music and memory project. With the residents he plays music from iTunes, not just any music but that which will trigger memories and activate cognition. When possible he interviews and asks questions to pinpoint likes and dislikes. When someone cannot converse and there is no family to assist, Dan studies the individual, checks on age, where the person grew up, and other pertinent information that will lead to music preferences. Classical? Symphony? Religious? Rock and Roll? Big Band? He explores until he discovers the right genre and artist.

iTunes has many fantastic aspects including that music can be sorted in a variety of ways: the decade, the artist, albums, genre, most popular, and about one hundred more. You can select the Beach Boys and their songs will appear showing just how popular each song is (to avoiding wading through reams of music that never hit the Big Time). With a simple click, the song plays – “Help me, Rhonda. Help! Help me, Rhonda… ” When a smile spreads across the face of the listener, you know you have hit magic. Jot the title and artist, download the song, and while it pops into your collection move to another song or artist.

iTunes allows the purchaser to buy the song once, download it on a facility laptop and then you can share the same song with other residents as the facility now “owns” the tune. Each resident’s playlist can be held in your account to be added to as time rolls forward. Since a computer hold thousands upon thousands of songs, you can stock up. This means tunes are readily available for use now, for adding later, and for creating a music collection for new residents as they move to the residence.

Some songs have been picked, snippets have been played to observe resident reaction, and now an iPod is loaded. iPods are given to each resident to enjoy music in a private atmosphere, along with adjustable, comfortable headphones. For most residents of long-term care facilities, the ear buds are an annoyance plus they interfere with hearing aids. No problem, however, since the ear buds can be placed into a splitter so that when family comes to visit, resident and loved one can listen together. Some facilities leave the iPod in the resident’s room along with a charger; others have a central storage station with iPods labeled for quick identification so that the correct resident receives his or her iPod.

Music and memory explode as those with dementia who appear barely able to communicate are suddenly singing every word of “Hello, Dolly”. Those with MS or move rhythmically as they hum along. People who most days are angry, withdrawn, and generally uncooperative find that happy place of contentment where they can smile, relax, and re-enter the world as favorite tunes fill their minds. I cannot adequately describe the transformation. You just have to rent the movie on Netflix or go to the Alive Inside website to explore and learn more about this independent film and set up a viewing for your community. Everyone at The City Drive Entertainment Group is helpful and dedicated to spreading the word through their movie.

I am the volunteer facilitator of our local Alzheimer’s Support Group and for our community Alzheimer’s Awareness projects throughout the year. After viewing the movie I approached the Head of Nursing at our local care facility. Our enthusiasm combined and intertwined with that of the staff, hospital auxiliary members, and community members. Alive Inside was shown and Music and Memory began its parade to fruition in Winnemucca. A brief presentation with the auxiliary landed $5,000 in our hands and the process of learning started. $1,000 brings training, 10 iPods, headsets, and more. Another $1,000 buys 20 more iPods so that every resident has his or her own. $300 pays for a laptop (a special price from a very special local dealer). A $500 gift card for iTunes means the possible download of 500 songs. Headphones cost less than $10 each with a couple of more expensive sets added for experimentation. Some splitters, about $6 each, mean family can join the listening, musical fun.

Instead of isolation and loneliness, every resident is now a part of the music and memory project. Smiles, tapping feet, conversations about past events ring through the air. You, too, can bring joy with a little time, effort, and money. Your output will input immense delight and satisfaction to your soul.

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