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Music & Memory: How to Find Certified Care Facilities

By Rebecca Schier-AkameluMarch 31, 2022
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If you’re searching for a memory care community for a loved one affected by dementia, you probably already know about some of the specialized therapies these communities can provide. Music therapy for dementia has its own set of positive effects, which can lead to a better quality of life for memory care patients.

Music & Memory® programs in memory care communities provide individualized music playlists that yield tangible, research-backed results. Read on to learn more about this program and how to find a Music & Memory-certified community in your area.

In this article:

The Music & Memory program

The Music & Memory program began 10 years ago with the mission of training health care professionals to create personalized music playlists for people with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. With over 5,800 certified communities, Music & Memory programs are growing and reaching more seniors through playlists of their favorite music.

“Music & Memory occupies only one small thread in the overall tapestry of how music can be helpful,” explained Justin Russo, the program director of Music & Memory. “Music is broadly beneficial in a variety of ways, especially for seniors. Our approach centers around memory recall and the many therapeutic benefits that come from it.”

How Music & Memory works

Music & Memory – and music therapy in general – can be an effective therapeutic tool for seniors with memory loss. Memories of music are stored in a part of the brain that remains mostly unaffected by Alzheimer’s or other dementias. So, hearing familiar music can help different regions of the brain communicate with one another, according to research in The Journal of Prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Russo explained how it’s most beneficial to choose individualized music from a senior’s formative years.

“There’s just a lot going on in that period of our lives. There’s a lot of emotional memory being generated . . . and what that translates to is music being impressed upon more parts of the brain. Many of these areas are the last to be touched by late-stage dementia. If you get the right music, you can actually trigger memory recall, even for someone who is very late in the stages of dementia,” Russo said.

How to create a Music & Memory playlist

Russo explained that the process of finding individualized songs for a person’s playlist can take multiple listening sessions. Eventually, gathering 20-25 songs is ideal, but even 10 songs is a good starting point. The Music & Memory program website includes a collection of free downloadable Music & Memory guides, including one on creating a personalized playlist just for your loved one.

“We advocate for becoming a music detective, finding the very specific songs that trigger memory and light up a person. It’s a process, especially if the person is having trouble remembering, depending on where they are in the aging process,” Russo said. “That sometimes requires speaking with family members, or asking a lot of questions, such as ‘What was your wedding song?’ or ‘Do you like to dance or play an instrument?’”

Observe how your loved one reacts to music to figure out what they like. Watch for positive responses to individual songs, including:

  • Tapping fingers or feet
  • Smiling
  • Singing
  • Moving with the rhythm

Memory loss, combined with the aging process, can delay song recognition. Russo recommends playing through the entire song to see if your loved one responds to any part of it.

How communities use Music & Memory

Juniper Village at Brookline — Wellspring Memory Care became certified in the Music & Memory program in 2014. Kaitlin Hoover, the community’s Connections director, said they collect a Music & Memory assessment for all new residents and provide a playlist within 48 hours.

“From there, all associates make note of changes that might need to happen to a resident playlist – additions of favorite songs, taking away any songs that don’t work, or re-organizing the music to fit the needs of the listener,” Hoover said. “All associates in all departments are on board to help with any changes that may be needed. Staff education on Music & Memory is key for success!”

It’s not uncommon for seniors to have more than one playlist. Hoover said each resident in her community typically has two.

“Most residents have an upbeat playlist to help enter the day with energy and excitement and another playlist with relaxing, calming instrumentals and soft melodies. This helps decompress from the hustle and bustle of the day, and calms possible high energy associated with anxiety or sundowning,” Hoover said.

Russo also advocates for using the playlists during transitions. This can help seniors who get anxious when they need to travel for a doctor’s appointment or therapy session. Personalized playlists can increase comfort in many situations.

“We actually had a resident who was on hospice and in the stages of actively dying,” Hoover recalled. “She listened to her playlist all through her last moments. After her passing, her family asked that her Music & Memory playlist be sent to them so that it could be played in the background of her celebration of life. Music & Memory provided comfort during these last moments, and helped her to not feel alone.”

Benefits of a Music & Memory program

Music & Memory research conducted by the University of California, Davis and other top-tier research institutions shows that these music programs provide clear and lasting benefits:

  • 20% lower chance of aggressive behaviors
  • 17% decrease in the use of anti-anxiety drugs
  • 16% fewer depressive symptoms
  • 11% decrease in the use of antipsychotic drugs
  • 8% fewer falls
  • Improvement in mood and communication
  • Safer eating habits

“Music has the power to connect people to their memories, to awaken all parts of the brain, and to reduce the use of pharmaceutical interventions,” Hoover explained.

Hoover also notes the many benefits of Music & Memory she’s witnessed at a community level:

  • An overall decrease in verbal and physical outbursts
  • Increased participation in engagement opportunities and activities
  • Increased nutritional and fluid intake during meals and snacks when Music & Memory sessions occur 15 minutes before meals
  • Increased emotional well-being
  • Increased friendships and social connections among residents as they share music
  • Decrease in care refusal

“There’s a carryover effect, usually a short period of time, where the person is able to recognize family members, follow cues, and even chew and swallow,” explained Russo, “and this is where the majority of benefits come from.”

Creative applications and additional benefits

Although Music & Memory sessions usually involve headphones for a more immersive listening experience, social components can be added. Hoover noted that her community uses the therapy creatively, sometimes having silent dance parties as multiple residents listen to their playlists in the same place. This adds elements of physical activity and socialization to the therapy.

Music & Memory can also foster familial relationships, giving family members a chance to learn about the music their loved ones listened to as a teenager. Russo notes that he even learned new stories about his own father through the process.

“Family members gain the benefits of Music & Memory, so it is encouraged that families listen along through a speaker, so they can enjoy the music together and use it as a tool for a successful family visit. Once the music listening is complete, there tends to be more clarity with the visit,” Hoover explained.

Music & Memory care communities, training, and support

Becoming a certified community is easier than you might expect. Russo says the Music & Memory program offers live webinars and trainings to help communities establish and maintain the program. Russo encourages tying the outcomes into care planning.

“We really consider Music & Memory a nursing intervention. . . . In the last couple of years since the onset of the health crisis [Covid-19 pandemic], Music & Memory has really pivoted services to provide additional support for the health care staff out there,” said Russo.

Hoover also highlighted the intervention support Music & Memory provides.

“Whether you are an at-home caregiver, or in a care community with multiple residents, there are plenty of free resources to download to help any caretaker get started,” said Hoover.

The impact Music & Memory programs have on dementia patients is undeniable. Because of these positive effects, the program is gaining popularity in memory care communities across the country.

“Music & Memory has added a great deal of opportunity to connect the residents to themselves, one another, and their loved ones in meaningful ways. . . . Music & Memory is a wonderful addition to our therapy opportunities here at Juniper Village at Brookline — Wellspring Memory Care.”

How to find a Music & Memory-certified care facility

If you’re interested in finding a Music & Memory program for your loved one, contact one of A Place for Mom’s free, local Senior Living Advisors. These experts can direct you towards your local Music & Memory-certified care facilities or communities with music therapy specially designed for seniors with dementia.

“It’s infectious, what can happen, when someone is really getting the most out of a personalized music playlist. It speaks to everyone in the room. It doesn’t just improve the quality of life for the person, but the quality of care overall,” Russo explained.


Russo, J. (2022, March 4). Personal communication [Personal interview].

Hoover, K. (2022, March 11). Personal communication [Email].

Music & Memory. Music and the brain.

Bakerjian, D., Bettega, K., Cachu, A. M., Azzis, L., & Taylor, S. (2020, March 4). The impact of music and memory on resident level outcomes in California nursing homesThe Journal of Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine, 21(8), 1045-1050.

King, J. B., Jones, K. G., Goldberg, E., Rollins, M., MacNamee, K., Moffit, C., Naidu, S. R., Ferguson, M. A., Garcia-Leavitt, E., Amaro, J., Breitenbach, K. R., Watson, J. M., Gurgel, R. K., Anderson, J. S., & Foster, N. L. (2018, May 7). Increased functional connectivity after listening to favored music in adults with Alzheimer dementiaThe Journal of Prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease, 6, 56-62.

Rebecca Schier-Akamelu

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