MUSIC & MEMORY® is a non-profit organization that helps individuals with a wide range of cognitive and physical conditions to engage with the world, ease pain, and reclaim their humanity through the use of personalized music playlists.
We train nursing home staff and other elder care professionals, as well as family caregivers, to create, provide, and manage personalized playlists using digital music players that enable those struggling with Alzheimer’s, dementia, and other cognitive and physical challenges to reconnect with the world through music-inspired memories.
By providing access and education, and by creating a network of MUSIC & MEMORY® Certified organizations, we aim to make this form of personalized therapeutic music a standard of care throughout the health care industry.
The Story of MUSIC & MEMORY®
Music & Memory started with the understanding that music is deeply rooted in our conscious and unconscious brains. As powerful as that idea is, it becomes even more important if the functioning of the brain is deteriorating, as occurs in dementia, Alzheimer’s, and other types of cognitive loss. But music can awaken the brain and with it, the rich trove of memories that are associated with familiar songs or beloved pieces.
With the beginnings of that idea in place, questions about the power unleashed by the relationship of music to memory began to emerge. What if, for people with cognitive loss in nursing homes, the delivery of personalized music could be part of their structured care plans? Could listening to one’s favorite music enable fragile cognitive connections to memories that might enhance family or caregiver recognition or enable moments of enjoyment or serenity? Might there be other benefits associated with the administration of music in lieu of medication (particularly antipsychotic drugs) that serve to elevate mood and health status for residents.
The answers to these questions and others was a resounding “Yes.” Helped by the emergence of iPods and other MP3 players, and through nursing homes and healthcare organizations recognizing Music & Memory’s methodology, the simple idea became a groundswell, when in 2014 a documentary about our work, Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory, was released. The film, which included a video clip of Henry, a nursing home resident reawakened by listening to his Cab Calloway favorites, went viral (now with more than 11 million views), dramatically increasing awareness and enthusiastic interest in our program.
In 2006, in the early days of modern music technology, none of the 16,000 long-term care facilities in the U.S. used iPods for their residents. Today, more than 5,300 facilities have been trained and certified in Music & Memory use and rely on some form of music-player technology to deliver personalized playlist music to residents. It is estimated that 75,000 users have experienced Music & Memory, many through programs sanctioned by state-run health services agencies. In recent years, health care systems have successfully introduced Music & Memory in hospital care settings, notably in stroke and brain injury rehabilitation, psychiatric, and labor and delivery services. Hospice care, adult day care, and assisted living protocols are in development or early-phase rollouts. In 2019, Music & Memory developed training and certification protocols and processes to enable home care agencies and caregivers to administer personalized music to homebound individuals, and plans are in place for a widespread introduction of home-based personalized music training, Music & Memory At Home.
Like many nonprofit organizations, Music & Memory fights for every opportunity to advance our mission, overcoming challenges and removing obstacles as they arise. We know that even as progress is being made toward a cure for Alzheimer’s and other cognitively debilitating illnesses, there is yet no clear outcome. Instead, we focus on quality of life, knowing that this is something we can do right now. Music has the power to change lives, and as a powerful alternative to accepting or institutionalizing the uninterrupted decline associated with cognitive loss, we champion our vision of music as the powerful force that inspires joy and creates moments of connection that affirm personhood.