by Dave Roth, Member of AFM Local 802 (New York City)
“Everything has gotten too complicated these days!” That is the familiar sound of my father. You see, he is a man in his early 80s who was born in a time fresh off the Great Depression and in the infancy of great technological discoveries. As time marches forward, we find that advancements in technology are no longer coming in terms of years or months, but rather at lightning speed. By the time you learn of a new breakthrough, they are already developing and releasing the latest and greatest device. To the elderly these changes aren’t nearly as welcome as they are to their successors. They are confusing, frustrating, and downright frightening, and even more so to someone suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
But Dan Cohen, founding executive director of Music & Memory, saw technology as a gateway to breathing life back into those lost in the recesses of their own minds by reawakening their memories. Cohen is a trained social worker with a background in technology.
“Ten years ago I heard a journalist talking about how iPods are ubiquitous, and I thought, well, all the kids have them, but a lot of us adults don’t. My experience in the nursing home didn’t seem to show much being done there. And, if I were ever in a nursing home, would I have access to my favorite ’60s music? So I Googled “iPods and nursing homes,” and even though there are more than 16,000 nursing homes in the US, I couldn’t find one that was using iPods for the residents,” says Cohen.
So he set out to see if this modern technology could be used in a wide-spread format. Cohen’s work has been widely documented in a YouTube clip that went viral with more than 7 million views. Henry, an elderly man suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, “reawakened” while listening to music of his youth. It is part of the award-winning documentary Alive Inside that follows his use of this therapy.
Cohen discovered that it wasn’t just music that provided this therapy, but specific music that related to a patient’s past. It was personalized music. “Music has to have personal meaning to them and that’s really where you are reaching back into that part of one’s memory that is still very much intact. Our love of music is emotional and not cognitive,” he says. Not only was this effective for the patient, but incredibly therapeutic for the families as they were able to share their own memories in an effort to compile the favorite music of their loved ones.
After seeing Cohen’s documentary, I was personally inspired to bring my mom her favorite music as she was also in the throws of Alzheimer’s and had lost her ability to speak. My family and I were moved to tears to hear her once again singing words that we thought were lost forever. I, and so many throughout the world, who were beginning to use this technology, were quickly inspired to spread the word.
This is where the gift of modern technology comes into play. Through the use of iPods we are able to download a world of music on a tiny device. And in the case of the iPod shuffle, it is designed with ease of use, not only for those suffering from Alzheimer’s, but also for countless caregivers. Just one click and a door to the mind suddenly opens and reconnects the patient to their own memories and once again to those they love around them.
Music & Memory has expanded their work through nursing homes all over the country. Entire state health agencies have endorsed this therapy for use throughout all their eldercare facilities. In the groundbreaking case of Wisconsin, they have documented dramatic decline in the use of psychotropic drugs. This inspirational technology is also inspiring grass-root efforts to raise funds and collect used iPods all over the nation.
My personal experience with my mom called me to action and I formed the Broadway Alzheimer’s iPod Drive, now in its fourth year. We have collected hundreds of used iPods and raised thousands of dollars through Broadway’s spotlight, and we continue to spread awareness about this devastating disease. Brilliant minds have created technology that can reconnect broken minds. The irony is cruel but beautiful and only inspires us to find more healthy ways to care for those who deserve so much more.
The fourth annual Broadway Alzheimer’s iPod Drive is August 1-19. We accept iPods, iPod chargers, and monetary donations. And, of course, we accept these throughout the whole year. Please send your iPods and chargers, or drop them off, to: AFM Local 802 or Alzheimer’s Association NYC Chapter, 360 Lexington, 4th Floor, New York, NY 10017. Monetary donations should be made out to Music & Memory, with Broadway Alzheimer’s iPod Drive in the “memo” on the check, and mailed to: Music & Memory Donations; 142 Emory Rd.; Mineola, NY 11501.