Music and Memory: Therapeutic Use Of Music 

Alyson J. Breisch, MSN, RN, FCN
HMA Director for Practice and Education

I recently attended a program called Alive Inside at a continuous care retirement community (CCRC) in my hometown.  It was fascinating to hear about the dramatic effects of a project, Music and Memory, and its benefits for persons with dementia.  After presentation of the program, a local service organization donated funds to support the purchase of 200 iPods and earphones for the retirement community.

Music & Memory was founded by Dan Cohen, MSW 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 discovered that none of the 16,000 nursing homes in the U.S. used iPods for their residents.  In 2006, he volunteered at a local nursing home in Greater New York, creating personalized playlists with songs that are familiar and favorites for the residents.  The program was a hit with residents, staff and families, and became the prototype for a bigger effort, the Music and Memory program.

The Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation provided funding in 2008 and 200 iPods were provided to residents of four New York nursing homes and the program was tested on a larger scale.  In 2010, Music and Memory became a non-profit organization that brings personalized music into the lives of the elderly or infirm through digital music technology.  Its mission is to train nursing home staff and other elder care professionals, as well as family caregivers, on how to create and provide personalized playlists using iPods and related digital audio systems.  The intent is to enable those struggling with Alzheimer’s, dementia and other cognitive and physical challenges to reconnect with the world through music-triggered memories.  Since then, iPod personalized music programs have been implemented in hundreds of facilities through the United States and Canada.  One significant result of these iPod-based programs is a reduction in the use of psychotropic medications in persons with dementia.

Two downloadable resources on the website are: 1) Making the Case for Personalized Music: A Guide for Elder Care Professionals and 2) How to Create a Personalized Playlist for Your Elder at Home.  You can also locate agencies in your state that have trained personnel on the Music and Memory website:

You can view a video about this innovative approach at

This may be a relevant topic for a health ministry program in your faith community.  And don’t forget to write down your play list and the play lists of those close to you!