Senior Housing Facilities Look Into Technology for Individual-Focused Memory Care

October 20, 2022

Retirement Living Staff

There are currently nearly six million Americans living with Alzheimer’s, with the majority of those being 65 years old and older, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. This number is projected to hit nearly 14 million by 2050. While a lot of memory care facilities and communities are slow to keep up with the latest technology in senior care and community management, many of the more prevalent leaders in the industry are beginning to incorporate new technology and platforms designed to offer personalized treatment and therapy for those with a memory disorder.

Music and Memory

Music and Memory Founder, Dan Cohen observing the effects of music, Source: MUSIC & MEMORY®

Music Stirs Memories

It is well documented that music has a powerful effect on those suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia. Boston University’s Alzheimer’s Disease Center did a study on the effects music has on those suffering from memory loss. They discovered since music is emotional in different ways to different individuals, it can trigger strong emotional memories. The study also discovered that music is transformational to those with Alzheimer’s and dementia because when we learn music – playing it, hearing it and learning lyrics – we store that knowledge as procedural memory. Procedural memory is how we learn repetitive activities and routines. Dementia destroys episodic memory but procedural memory remains mostly intact.

A 2018 study from the University of Utah Health in Salt Lake City published in the Journal of Prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease states, “objective evidence from brain imaging shows personally meaningful music is an alternative route for communicating with patients who have Alzheimer’s disease.” It further states music can facilitate attention, reward and motivation, bolstering changes to manage distress in those suffering from Alzheimer’s.

MUSIC & MEMORY® is a non-profit that uses digital music technology to improve the quality of life of those living in senior living communities. It trains senior living community staff and caregivers how to create personalized playlists using iPods or ScanDisk Clip Jam MP3 players and similar digital audio systems to reconnect with the world through music-triggered memories.

When Executive Director Dan Cohen learned that none of the 16,000+ long-term care facilities used personalized music as a means of treatment for their residents, he received funding to test his idea on a larger scale. Cohen got 200 iPods and distributed them to residents across four New York long-term care facilities. The outcome was a big success and led to the creation of MUSIC & MEMORY®.

Music and Memory


Today, MUSIC & MEMORY® has implemented and trained staff on iPod- or ScanDisk Clip Jam MP3 player-based personalized music programs across thousands of long-term and memory care facilities in all 50 states and 10 countries, totaling around 80,000 participants. Twenty-eight states have adopted the program as policy. “We’re seeing evidence that the program works in more than one setting,” says Justin Russo, Director of Communications for MUSIC & MEMORY®. “In addition to senior living facilities, we believe it will help individuals in home health care to age in place. We’re seeing evidence that it not only supports quality of life and reduces reliance on certain medications, but also eases transitions between settings,” Russo explains.

You may have seen the documentary Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory, which follows the company’s founder, Dan Cohen to numerous senior living communities where he outfits residents with iPods containing personalized playlists. One such resident, Henry, was reawakened by listening to his favorite Cab Calloway hits. The clip of Henry from this documentary has been viewed over 11 million times.

It seems first-hand experience helps drive the passion for what the program can do. “The majority of our staff has personal experience with how music has helped a loved one,” Russo, tells Retirement Living. “We’d all love to see music become a standard of care.”

When Russo first arrived at MUSIC & MEMORY®, his grandfather was suffering from memory issues. Being of Polish descent, Russo explained how playing Polish music helped turn his grandfather around.

Senior living facilities can become MUSIC & MEMORY® Certified Care Organizations to bring personalized music to their residents, helping improve their cognitive function. It’s also expanding its reach to service hospice care, adult day care, assisted living communities, hospitals and home health care. MUSIC & MEMORY® Certified facilities know how to:

  • Introduce MUSIC & MEMORY® to residents
  • Develop personalized playlists for each resident
  • Create and maintain an easy-to-use iTunes playlist
  • Manage equipment security
  • Scale their program across the organization
  • Create quality initiatives based on personalized music
  • Use assessment tools

MUSIC & MEMORY® helps long-term care facilities meet federally-mandated Center for Clinical Standards and Quality (CMS) regulations and guidelines (F-tags). Some of the ways it does this include:

  • Offering a non-pharm alternative to medications (Tag F329)

  • MUSIC & MEMORY® before meals helps stimulate appetite (Tag F325)

  • MUSIC & MEMORY® meets the requirements for Tags F272, F281 and F309: all dealing with quality assurance and improvement programs. This includes facilities implementing care processes based on the residents’ individual needs and not around routines or staff needs.

Making Personalized Memories Matter

The scariest thing about Alzheimer’s or dementia is the fact that it steals the ability for adults to store new memories and remember old ones. This diminishes quality of life and makes caring for an adult with the disease difficult. It’s been proven that memories or reminiscing is one of the best ways to change how you speak with and interact with adults with advancing Alzheimer’s.


Source: MemoryWell

Based in Washington D.C. MemoryWell is a third-party digital storytelling platform that aims to chronicle adults’ lives and preserve memories. It employs around 600 professional writers who interview individuals and their families to build a collaborative timeline around their life’s story.

These stories are called MemoryWells. Each MemoryWell consists of around 500 to 800 words and are based around the interviews with the individual and their family members. Most include photos, videos, music, letters and documents based on timelines of important events in their lives all the way up to the present day. Each individual’s MemoryWell is available on a digital platform for families and the senior living facilities’ staff and is designed to provide information quickly. MemoryWells also include a secure, private page used to store medical-related for sensitive information.

Senior living communities use MemoryWells to get to know their residents and to personalize treatment through reminiscence therapy. MemoryWells are also a great tool for caregivers to help sooth agitated residents suffering from a memory disorder and help residents stay active and engaged by interacting with fellow residents.

MemoryWell founder Jay Newton-Small started the company based on a personal experience she had with her father. “My dad was kicked out of his first community for being too aggressive. He punched a nurse, nearly broke her jaw and escaped the community. Police and fire found him a few hours later miles away,” explains Newton-Small.


The second community she tried for her father asked her to fill out a questionnaire about his background. She wrote out his story and said it did wonders in transforming his care and helping the facility understand his behavioral issues. “Not only did his Ethiopian caregivers engage more with him, asking about Haile Selassie and Africa, but the community brought in legendry dementia behavioralist Teepa Snow to work with my dad,” says Newton-Small.

Currently, MemoryWell is being used in 35 senior living communities in 19 states, with 19 of those communities being operated by Brookdale, the nation’s biggest senior living care provider.

“Aside from expense, the top reason why families don’t put their loved ones into assisted living is they don’t believe they’re going to be treated like the person they know and love. So, to be able to say to them: not only will we know your loved one, but we’ll have a professional writer tell her story and everyone here will have a copy of that story; that goes a long way to show that this is a great place for mom,” says Newton-Small. MemoryWell’s platform and MUSIC & MEMORY®’s endeavor to get music therapy into all senior living communities are trying to break through that barrier and incorporate personalized, individual-focused programs and treatment.

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