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Music and Memory iPod Project

November 27, 2014

By Editor
The Alzheimer Society London and Middlesex strives to provide programming that supports people with dementia and their caregivers through the dementia journey. In the fall of 2013 and in collaboration with the Community Service Learning Program at Western University, we piloted the “iPod Project”.  The program is based on music appreciation for those with a diagnosis of Alzheimers disease or other dementia (ADOD).  It is intended to enhance quality of life for the client and caregiver by enabling the enjoyment of music through the use of iPods and personalized playlists.

Music has been shown to be an extremely powerful emotional trigger and the ravages of dementia do not seem to damage its ability to stir strong feelings The pilot project involved Western Health Sciences students paired with clients of the Alzheimer Society for weekly home visits.  The clients and their caregivers were provided with iPods and were shown how to use them.  The students worked with the families to develop individualized play lists of their favourite music. The visits that followed throughout the term were filled with social interaction and reminiscing of happier times driven through the music playlist.  The program has been so successful that it is now about to be rolled out as a regular Alzheimer Society program.

Music has been used in care settings for many years with the effects of music on people with dementia being well documented.  While the music therapy of the past can easily be categorized as therapeutic it had the limitation of not providing the right music to the right person, or meeting the challenge of hearing impairment or overstimulation.  The key component of the program is the ability of iPods to offer personalized playlists.  In this way caregivers can focus on only the music that stimulates memories for each individual client.  If the right music is chosen – personalized for the person with dementia - it has the ability to “reach” the person in ways that may have seemed impossible previously. That music and memory impact can provide comfort and security in a world that makes less and less sense with each passing day. 

The use of iPods can also encourage meaningful engagement with caregivers.  Caregivers have reported that they see their family members respond to music in a way that they no longer are able to respond to anything else.  For a few precious hours the person’s long lost ability to connect with family members is somewhat regained.  Clients were seen to get up and dance with the student volunteers or with their family members, or enjoy looking through family photo albums – all triggered by involvement in the iPod project.  A reported residual effect in some cases has seen the client maintaining a heighten attentiveness for a time period after the music has been turned off.