How music therapy brings joy to people with memory loss

According to the Alzheimer's Association, Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia will cost $236 billion this year in the United States alone. Besides the significant monetary cost, memory loss can also take a significant toll on personal relationships. What's more, changes in mood and personality can dramatically alter a family's way of life.

Unfortunately, medications that treat memory loss are expensive and still have a long way to go before they are truly effective. That's why many aging services providers are adopting alternative therapies for older adults with memory loss, in addition to medication. These therapies can help people with memory loss connect with their loved ones, soothe emotional distress and reduce the need for antipsychotics.

Music & Memory, a personalized music therapy program for those with memory loss, has shown real impact on mood, social engagement and family relationships, and it has our attention here at Chicagoland Methodist Senior Services. The program is gaining traction across the country as another tool for helping those with memory loss.

Many staff members at Chicagoland Methodist Senior Services, the most extensive senior services network on Chicago's north side, became certified in Music & Memory last month.

"It was the natural decision for CMSS to get certified in Music & Memory," said Lili Mugnier, arts programming coordinator. "Our staff is excited to figure out which music will be the best fit for each of our residents in order to see the best results."

After an organization like Chicagoland Methodist Senior Services becomes certified in Music & Memory, trained staff set up an iTunes library and create personalized playlists for each resident participating in the program. Family caregivers can also set up Music & Memory at home.

One aspect of Music & Memory is the process of connecting residents to the stories behind the music. Certain genres of music, as well as specific songs, can help older adults with memory loss find deeper meaning in the music, and even give them a nudge to recall seemingly lost memories. Positive responses to certain songs may help trigger emotions from a place, time or event in their lives that they associate the song with.

"At the very least, music has the power to boost residents' moods and promote a calmer atmosphere," Mugnier said. "At its most extreme, music has the power to help adults with memory loss form associations with a song or voice to recall memories that were at one point forgotten."

Music & Memory is affordable for aging services providers to implement and relies on donations. Many memory support and assisted living programs choose to set up an iPod program where people can donate their used iPods and iPads to residents. Each donated iPod will be engraved with a number and associated with a specific resident. By providing each resident with their own device, residents can get into the habit of listening to their own personal playlists, which increases the effectiveness of Music & Memory. Chicagoland Methodist Senior Services is asking supporters to sponsor a playlist for $10 or an iPod for $80, and a portion of the funds raised in this year's Spring Benefit Brunch also will go to support the program. This ensures that each resident will have their own device, which is necessary for their playlist to truly make an impact.

"Music has the power to truly change the lives of these older adults and their families," Mugnier said. I'm so thrilled to be part of this change."

To support the Music & Memory at CMSS, please visit For more on the Spring Benefit Brunch, please visit

• Bill Lowe is the president and CEO of Chicagoland Methodist Senior Services, the most extensive network of senior services on Chicago's north side.

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