Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Ask anyone, and they’ll tell you the iPod has changed the music industry. What they may not tell you is the more obscure, yet similarly profound, impact it’s having on the lives of the elderly suffering from dementia.

Experimentation with iPods and memory began when Dan Cohen, a social worker from Long Island, N.Y., distributed 200 iPods to four local nursing homes in 2008.

When Cohen played songs patients listened to when they were younger, he observed residents become increasingly social, active and happy. In the above video, you can watch the reactions of one patient, 94-year-old Henry, who goes from being totally unresponsive to become a different, more alive man, singing, humming, smiling, and interacting with his surroundings. The video of Henry which is also the trailer for a yet-to-be-released documentary about Cohen’s work went viral on YouTube, receiving more than 6 million views since April.

“I’m crazy about music, beautiful music, beautiful sound,” Henry says after listening to his iPod in the video.

The observations about the effects of iPods on dementia patients lead Cohen to found Music & Memory, a non-profit devoted to bringing donated iPods to nursing homes. Cohen’s currently striving to collect 1 million iPods, through donations driven through the Music & Memory website as well as donation boxes at Broadway theaters.

The organization’s work shows that providing personalized music for patients in nursing homes vastly improves quality of life.

“In nursing homes, you’re used to listening to whatever’s played for you,” Cohen says, explaining the advantages of iPods. “When we cater iPods for individuals, we end up with just songs that resonate with people, uplift them and calm them down.”

As of now, Cohen is aware of more than 50 nursing homes in 15 states using his plan for bringing personalized music through iPods. The number could be much larger, because he has trained many people to set up iPods with music from residents’ youths.

The forthcoming documentary Alive Inside, directed by Michael Rossato-Bennett, will complete production in fall 2012. The film is holding off a mainstream release to try their luck at the festival circuit.