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iPod Therapy for Dementia Launches in Australia

2 November 2015 at 4:36 pm
Ellie Cooper
An overseas music therapy project that has had an “awakening” effect on dementia sufferers has launched in Australia.

Ellie Cooper | 2 November 2015 at 4:36 pm


iPod Therapy for Dementia Launches in Australia
2 November 2015 at 4:36 pm

An overseas music therapy project that has had an “awakening” effect on dementia sufferers has launched in Australia.

Dan Cohen founded the Not for Profit Music & Memory, based in the United States, which gives people in nursing homes an iPod filled with a personalised playlist.  

“I was listening to the radio and a journalist said iPods are ubiquitous, they’re everywhere, and ok young people have them and adults, but it just didn’t seem like it was likely for people in an aged care home,” Cohen said.

“I googled… and in the US there were 16,000 nursing homes and I couldn’t find one where people who lived there were benefiting from having their own music.

“So I called up a near-by facility where I lived in New York and I said, I know music’s already your number one recreational activity… but can we see if there’s any added value if we totally personalise music.

“That’s where I came in with my laptop and several iPods and totally personalised it and it was a hit with the residents.”

Cohen, who has experience both as a social worker and in the technology industry, said while music can help anyone, it is found to be especially transformative for people who have dementia.

“For someone with dementia that’s more advanced they might not even be able to recognise their own family or communicate, but when they hear music from their youth that they love it,” he said.

“It helps them to stay engaged, keep in touch with themselves, it changes their mood and keeps them functioning better cognitively.”

One of the most recognised examples of an “awakening” is the viral video of Henry, which led Cohen to create Alive Inside, a documentary about the power of music for dementia sufferers.

“[Henry] had been living in a nursing home for years and they knew him as basically someone who kept his head down in his hands on the table and did not communicate very much at all,” Cohen said.  

“But then when he’s listening to his Cab Calloway, his favourite tunes, he wakes up, he starts talking… he expresses these poetic on target things that nobody expected.

“The music sort of is a backdoor, so even though someone’s short term memory may be deteriorated that doesn’t mean their emotional system is. It’s not our cognition saying ‘I love that song’, it’s a feeling.”

He said that Memory and Music works hard to personalise music for the participants.

“We work with the family, friends, and say ‘what do you remember, did they sing in a choir or chorus or play a musical instrument, or have a pile of records sitting in storage somewhere?’ Anything we can do to help figure this out,” he said.

The Music & Memory therapy has also been used in Canada, the United Kingdom and Denmark. The Arts Health Institute launched the Australian project at the George Street Apple store in Sydney on Monday.  

CEO of the Arts Health Institute, Dr Maggie Haertsch, said the organisation is hoping to sign-up   healthcare organisations, hospitals and mental health services.

“Our plan is to do several things. One is to make sure that we can raise awareness and introduce Music and Memory into every single aged care facility in the country, as well as hospitals, community aged care services and to work in as much as we can with Alzheimer’s Australia as they connect with people who are newly diagnosed with dementia,” Dr Haertsch said.

“It’s also really good for a whole myriad of conditions, not just people with cognitive impairment or dementia, but for people with chronic pain, for people with Parkinson’s, for people who are isolated and feeling quite lonely, there’s many different reasons why having access to your favourite music is important.”

She said the Institute was also seeking support from philanthropists to purchase iPods and help from volunteers to create playlists.

Ellie Cooper  |  Journalist  |  @ProBonoNews

Ellie Cooper is a journalist covering the social sector.

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