The Transformative Power Of Music

At SummitCare we often engage in Music Therapy for our residents. We know the power of music first-hand and how our loved ones respond to music, particularly music from their particular era. We sometimes pick up instruments, have a dance and it becomes a very fun filled experience.

Below is an extract from resource material/article Music & Memory whose amazing work won the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival in 2014. The award winning documentary Alive Inside reveals the transformative power of music for people living with dementia.

Founding Executive Director and social worker, Dan Cohen started the not-for-profit Music & Memory with a simple idea: Someday, if he ended up in a nursing home, he wanted to be able to listen to his favourite‘60s music. At the time he’d heard a news report about how iPods have grown so popular. Why not bring used iPods as well as new ones into nursing homes to provide personalized music for residents?

When Dan had his brainstorm in 2006, he discovered that none of the 16,000 long-term care facilities in the U.S. used iPods for their residents. Drawing on his background in leveraging technology to benefit those who would otherwise have no access, he volunteered at a local nursing home in Greater New York, creating personalized playlists for residents.

The program was a hit with residents, staff and families, and became the prototype for a bigger effort. Since then, Music & Memory has trained thousands of healthcare professionals working in a wide range of healthcare organizations on how to create personalized music playlists for those in their care.

Here are some of Music and Memory’s findings.

The Music-Brain Connection

As we all have experienced, hearing the songs associated with a first love or a favourite movie causes a rush of emotions and memories. Music is profoundly linked to our personal history. In fact, our brains are hard-wired to connect music with long-term memory. Even for persons with severe dementia, personalised music can tap deep emotional recall.

For individuals living with Alzheimer’s or other related dementias, recent memory for names, places, and facts may be compromised, but memory from their teenage years is well-preserved.

Favourite music or songs associated with important personal events can trigger memories of lyrics and the experience connected to the music. Personalised playlists can calm chaotic brain activity and enable the listener to focus on the present moment, regaining a connection to themselves and others.

The Therapeutic Benefits of Personalised Music Nutritional and Hydration Issues

Because music activates cognition and speech, it helps residents recognize food, follow cues, chew and swallow. Calming music can relieve anxiety generated by the eating experience.

Agitation and Anxiety

Music focuses a person’s attention on something recognizable, which reduces the feeling of being overwhelmed and confused. It connects the person with positive memories, which has a soothing effect. Music stimulates movement, a positive outlet for restlessness. NOTE: the improved cognition and mood continue after the person stops listening to music.

Pain Relief

Music brings pleasure, releasing opioids in the brain. Happy memories distract from the pain. Recipients move to the music. This relieves pain from stiffness and tightened muscles. NOTE: Pain is a common reason for rejection of care and having music relieve or distract from pain can help residents be receptive to care, although always consult a physician if the pain is chronic.

Rejection of Care

Helps people relax, experience pleasure, connect to positive memories, improve their cognition and communication. Music improves the duration and intensity of concentration.

People are better able to follow cues, understand what is happening, relate to their caregiver, and feel safe.


Music helps relax tense muscles. It tunes one’s mind to positive memories and emotions providing soothing comfort. Decreases production of cortisol, a hormone that can contribute to feelings of stress and anxiety. Reduces sympathetic nervous system activity, decreases anxiety, blood pressure, heart and respiratory rate.

Mood and Depression

Neurologist Oliver Sacks said that, “Music evokes emotion, and emotion can bring with it memory… it brings back the feeling of life when nothing else can. ”Music is pleasurable- It brings warm memories and connections, and self-efficacy. It generates movement, engagement, cognition, and awareness.

Occupational, Speech and Physical Therapy

Music before a therapy session activates cognition, communication, and auditory and visual perception, making it easier to follow cues and engage in therapy activities.

Singing uses consonants and vowels, activating speech. Musical rhythm generates body movement, reduces muscle tension and improves coordination.

Personalised Music Can Transform Lives

Grounded in extensive neuroscience research, tested, and proven in thousands of Music & Memory certified organizations, our personalized music program has provided therapeutic benefits for thousands of individuals, clients and the staff who care for them.

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