How iPods can help with dementia

How iPods can help with dementia

Have you met someone who didn’t like music? If you’ve answered yes, I don’t believe you.  A love of music is hardwired into the human psyche. People with Alzheimer’s are no different.

This idea convinced Dan Cohen to found, a non-profit organization from New York City, seeking to make personalized music programs—essentially an iPod playlist of songs he may like—a standard in dementia care.  On October 10, Mr. Cohen spoke at the Alzheimer Society offices in Toronto.

This was too intriguing to pass up. Despite my youth, I knew the secret power of an old favourite song with its ability to bring back old memories. I was curious to know its benefits for people with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias.

I found the talk enthralling. Mr. Cohen was an engaging and accessible speaker passionate about the program. He was so happy to have positive news for people with Alzheimer’s and their families used to hardship.

Henry after listening to music

He showed us a video his organization produced that has since gone viral. Henry, a 90-year-old man with Alzheimer’s disease, was given a specially prepared iPod. After the music started to play, he came to life, swinging to the beat, singing in perfect tempo and having a lot of fun. Once the headphones were taken off, his speech and cognition were greatly improved. It was the most compelling YouTube I’ve seen in a while. Check out the video here.

Mr. Cohen explained the science behind the transformation. Dementia affected established pathways of speech and other mental functions. Music therapy was effective because it connected to speech and other lost functions through different pathways.

Despite his desire to see this his program implemented in seniors’ homes, he conceded that personalized music programs work best for people being cared for by family members. He made several recommendations for those wanting to do this at home:

  • Find proper music by looking through his record collections or find popular songs from her youth
  • Make a playlist containing fifty songs
  • Change it every four months. Like the rest of us, people with dementia will tire of the same song. Variety also helps open different memory pathways in the brain

I returned to my desk fired up to write. I had to share this with all of you. Mr. Cohen and his video were so convincing. Personalized music programs seemed so simple, effective, and fun for everyone. What was not to love?

Do you have any experiences with music and dementia? Know anybody whose life have been improved through music?

The Alzheimer’s Society also advocates of musical programs for people with dementia. Check out the Power of Music video the Alzheimer Society of Canada developed on the subject. You can also find other resources on staying active even after a diagnosis of dementia.


Ryan MacKellar

Marketing and Communications intern

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