October 11, 2016

The Power Of Personalized Playlists For Dementia Patients

American Village Senior Care facility in Indianapolis where the study is being conducted.

American Village Senior Care facility in Indianapolis where the study is being conducted.

INDIANAPOLIS - More than 110,000 Hoosiers suffer from some form of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.  There's currently a growing trend to use more personalized therapy options for patients.

In Indianapolis, a handful of Butler University students work with residents who have Alzheimer's and dementia at an assisted living facility. They are crafting a personalized therapeutic tool – a music playlist.

Ninety-one-year-old Bessie Mays talks about growing up in Nashville.

"I like Elvis Presley and the Blues… my grandmother used to play the guitar all evening," says Mays. "Tell you the truth, I like all music."  

Mays lives in American Village, in Indianapolis. Her playlist will be unique to her with tunes from when she was in her late teens and early 20s – the most musically influential time in a person’s life – and it will be on small ipod that she can listen to when she wants.

Using music as part of care in nursing homes is not new.  Khyla Weir, memory care specialist at American Village, says music already reverberates in the halls of the unit where all residents have been diagnosed with some form of dementia, a condition that has no cure. 

"As soon as they’re in that area where they can hear that music, 80-90 percent of the time it calms them in some way," says Weir. "Either the tearfulness stops, the sobbing stops, the screaming stops. So one way or another it’s de-escalated the situation."

The idea for the research project came about when two Butler professors developed a Neuro-music Group to study the effect of personalized music playlists for patients with dementia. They’ve already competed two studies, and both show positive calming effects. But both projects were only three months, not long enough to document changes in treatment.

The study at American Village will be nine months. It is funded with a $600,000 grant from the Indiana State Department of Health. The Butler professors will then reach out to two other nursing homes, with a goal of reaching up to 500 patients.


Butler music professor Tim Brimmer says the idea is to use a more personalized music set instead of relying on pharmaceuticals.

"What we’re interested in is when they’re in the time that they are most susceptible can we play the perfect songs to match their memories," Brimmer says. 

He explains how music affects the brain.  

"We associate music with mood and it starts before we were born," says Brimmer. "As these pieces are popping into our ears, the process is so deep and permanent you can remember what you thought of it then."

Studies have shown music can shift mood, manage stressful situations, stimulate positive interactions, help cognitive function and experts agree music therapy is more effective when it’s personal.

At American Village, Fred Rising Moore is another resident participating in the study.

"Leaf Watterbury. I don’t know if he’s dead or not," says Rising Moore. "I’m 99 years-old and of course he wouldn’t live that long."

Moore is actually 101 and his connection with music runs deep. Leaf Watterbury was his yodeling mentor.

Moore’s playlist will be unlike any others, and that’s the point.


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