Music and Memory

Published On: August 27th, 2011By Categories: Blog

Providing music, a personally meaningful activity, for persons with mid and late stage dementia continues to pose a challenge for care communities. Many of us in direct care have witnessed the power of music to “awaken” and engage those with diminished cognitive ability. Musicians work their magic in nursing homes when they visit weekly or monthly. If only there could only be enough live music to maintain this impact, enlivening resident lives. As a second best, in group settings we play recorded popular music from their era. This works — to a point.
Enter the world of iPods and MP3 players where total personalization is the norm. Millions are benefiting; why not our seniors! For those of us who love to listen to music, this love will not disappear as we age.
According to Dr. Concetta Tomaino, Executive Director of The Institute for Music and Neurologic Function, “In a study funded by the New York State Department of Health, a music therapist played familiar music three times a week for people with mid and late stage dementia for ten months. At the end of ten months, these people had improved their mini-mental status scores, they were recognizing their loved ones, they were talking to each other, having conversations. We had neuroscientists assess them for their social ability and found that there was no difference between them and people who did not have dementia. We know that using this type of music consistently, day-in and day-out, does, in fact, stimulate memory and recall, and improves it over time.”
In the past, applying this approach was not practical. But now with digital music players, we have the opportunity to generate such outcomes. This is the premise of the nonprofit, Music & Memory, which promotes the use of personalized music to improve quality of life for the elderly and infirm. To learn more about this approach, visit