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The power of music to support people with dementia

The power of music to support people with dementia


Mom is on the ipod program and I can’t thank you enough.  When she is agitated, I turn her iPod and she starts dancing and humming away.
-Daughter of woman with dementia

Have you met someone who didn’t like music? I haven’t.  A love of music is hardwired into the human psyche. People with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias are no different.

Two years ago at our offices in Toronto, I watched Dan Cohen, founder of Music and Memory in New York City, present at our office and share with us this simple yet powerful concept: the hidden power of music to bring back memories can improve mood, speech and cognition of people with dementia.

What’s the science behind this claim? Dementia affects established pathways of speech and other mental functions. Music therapy is effective because it connects to speech and other lost functions through different neural pathways that the disease has affected in the same way.

Today, iPod programs are springing up in different Alzheimer Societies across the province.  It’s exciting to see this idea improve the lives of so many Ontarians with dementia.

Here’s a list of the local Alzheimer Societies who offer them:


If you want more information about an iPod project or other Alzheimer Society services in your area, contact your local Alzheimer Society.

The iPod project: music to the ears of people with dementia

The iPod project: music to the ears of people with dementia

Imagine giving people with Alzheimer’s disease a soundtrack of their life to help them remember who they are.  It’s the gift of a better life.  This is what the Alzheimer Society of Toronto’s (AST) “Music and Memory: iPod Project” does.

With a grant to cover start-up costs, AST has already provided 300 iPods, complete with earphones, iTunes gift cards and volunteers to help upload the personalized playlists to participants for free.

The idea came after the founder of this successful New York program spoke to the Alzheimer Society in Toronto. (You can check out the details of the New York project and a wonderful participant video at He has also inspired iPod Projects at other Alzheimer Societies. Both Peel and Huron County are offering the iPod or similar programs.

Sabrina McCurbin, the AST’s Music and Memory iPod Project Coordinator, has seen participants transformed: “The personalized music sometimes brings back memory of the lyrics and original experience associated with the music.”

Angela Bianchi understands how this project creates happiness. She got involved after hearing an Alzheimer Toronto social worker speak about the iPod Project at her aunt’s retirement home.

“My aunt was so restless but now she sings along in Italian with her iPod and actively listens for hours,” explains Angela.

To bring something of the project to residents, Angela shared a CD of her aunt’s music. “The residents love when it’s played. So imagine if they had personal playlists,” she adds.

You can get involved by making a donation, contributing a used iPod, volunteering to create playlists or even spreading the word through social media.

Applicants to the iPod program can be caregivers (family, friends) and health-care professionals. Participants for the AST program must reside in Toronto. Check here for full details and to register.

Questions? Please contact iPod Program Coordinator Sabrina McCurbin:

To learn how to support the project contact Scott Russell ,Director of Community Engagement:


Karekaren-mccauln McCall,

Volunteer Blogger