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Meet the Organisation Bringing Music to America’s Dementia Community

Most of us take listening to music for granted. We have access practically whenever we want, through our computers, radios and phones, music is only a touch away.

But for elderly people, particularly those faced with dementia, music is but a luxury rarely afforded.

At a time when music and memory therapy is showing success in helping those with the condition, the fact that the average person with dementia has no access to music when the rest of the population so easily does was a fact that Music and Memory founder, Dan Cohen, wasn’t happy with.

Music for all

“What is really unfortunate is that today, when you’re old and you enter an institution, you enter this digital isolation zone,” said Cohen.

To combat this issue, Cohen set up the Music and Memory organisation, which aims to provide nursing homes in America with iPods filled with personalised playlists for residents to listen to as a form of therapy.

Cohen says the idea came to him during a time he visited a nursing home and witnessed the powerful effects music had on one particular patient, who he says was often violent.

“He was not able to articulate what music he liked – there was no family they had access to – but they knew he was a veteran,” he said.

“They made up a playlist of patriotic songs, and he just snapped to attention and started humming songs. It immediately changed the whole issue of him being a bit cantankerous.”

From there, Cohen trialled his personalised music program in three different nursing homes. Rather than simply gifting residents with prefilled iPods, Cohen took the time to get to know residents so he could put together personalised playlists that residents would better be able to respond and relate to.

The movement gained traction, and eventually, a company stepped in to help Cohen bring his idea to over 200 nursing homes in America through the Music and Memory organisation.

A helping hand

While a large number of iPods are bought by the organisation for use by nursing home residents, the organisation also relies on iPod donations, new and used, from the general public.

The American public has shown great enthusiasm in helping the cause, with the organisation currently in the midst of its sixth annual call for donations, where Cohen says he is always surprised with the ever-increasing support.

Support has also been seen at state level; currently, eleven American states have integrated Cohen’s work into public policy and are funding further research into the field of music and memory therapy.

Cohen has said he would like to hopefully expand the organisation into other areas, such as people in hospitals and those living at home through home care, in the hope that his vision of personalised music as a gold-standard of long term care will be realised.

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