It’s a spine-tingling feeling that we all know. A song begins to play. Maybe you’re driving by yourself and it crackles on the car radio. Or maybe you’re standing in the middle of a crowded party when it begins to play in surround sound. Wherever you are, it doesn’t really matter, because the song sweeps you back in time, and with a sudden jolt you find yourself flooded with nostalgia, inhabiting an old memory with incredible clarity.
That’s why Music & Memory’s iPod project has yielded such profound results. Music & Memory is a non-profit that brings personalized music into the lives of people living with Alzheimer’s or dementia in the form of a free iPod, rigged with the tunes of your choice.
Social worker Dan Cohen founded Music & Memory in 2006 through volunteering at a nursing home outside of New York, creating personalized playlists for residents. Because it was such a big hit, he expanded, and in 2008, with the help of a grant, brought 200 iPods to residents of four New York long-term care facilities. Now, Music & Memory has implemented their personalized iPod program in hundreds of care facilities throughout North America, touching thousands of lives.
There has been countless research on the correlation between music and memory, and the results are overwhelming. The human brain is hard-wired to connect music with long-term memory. For people living with Alzheimer’s and dementia, music can tap into a deep well of emotional recollection. It can be the key that exposes a whole landscape of well-preserved memories and restores a sense of self, and a feeling of connection. Unsurprisingly, this can improve the mood, cognition levels and general quality of life for an Alzheimer’s patient immensely.
The Music & Memory project has recently been honoured through Michael Rossato-Bennett’s documentary Alive Inside. Winner of the Audience Award at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, the documentary explores the transformative and ultimately healing capacity that music can have on the human brain. You can watch an inspiring teaser for Alive Inside, featuring bestselling author and neurologist Oliver Sacks below.