Last week, a funny thing happened: For once, I was not the first person I know to post a nursing home-related story to my Facebook page. And it was the first time I’ve ever known someone who appeared in a viral video — a video that’s been viewed over 6 million times on YouTube.

Videos that “go viral” usually are most popular within a certain age bracket. Last week, I saw friends of all ages post the video I’m talking about — from even the most cynical twentysomethings to grandparents.

The video is a clip from the new documentary “Alive Inside,” which features, among other stories, a 94-year-old man named Henry Dreher, who lives in a nursing home memory care unit.

For years, Henry has hardly been able to communicate with visitors or caregivers. However, as soon as Henry starts listening to Cab Calloway on a tiny iPod shuffle, he becomes reinvigorated, conversing easily with the filmmakers interviewing him.

Henry is the beneficiary of a charity called Music & Memory, which was founded by social worker Dan Cohen. I interviewed Cohen for the June 2011 issue of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News. When I first spoke to him, he was busy training nursing home and assisted living workers how to curate iTunes playlists for residents with Alzheimer’s and other dementias. His ultimate goal is to make iPod music therapy a standard of care for residents struggling with depression and dementia.

Acting on a hunch a few years ago, Cohen decided to talk to friends and family members of memory care residents to find out which songs and musicians the resident enjoyed in the past. Then, he’d create a playlist for an iPod Shuffle, featuring about 100 of the residents’ favorite songs.

After Cohen started seeing such positive responses from residents who allowed him to pop in the ear buds, he started approaching more facilities about trying this with their residents.

“Our goal is public awareness — and to convert these findings into actionable stuff. I think administrators can really benefit, and their residents can benefit…staff and families of residents can benefit. It’s a multiple ‘win,’” Cohen stresses.

His efforts received a jolt last week when the filmmakers put the clip of Henry online in advance of screenings of the documentary.

Since the video’s release, Cohen has been inundated with media requests and questions from nursing facilities about how to get programs like his started. Many of the nursing home residents featured in the film were individuals Cohen had worked with.

Anecdotally, Cohen has learned that facilities have been able to reduce the quantity of psychotropic medications in dementia residents who listen to iPods. He hopes to see more of this.

“I’m not jumping up and down saying it reduces meds. I don’t have that data, but I want it. I need researchers to step up and study this stuff,” Cohen said.

How to do it yourself

For facilities that want to implement their own music and memory programs, Cohen says they need three things.

“They need iPods (which can be collected through donation drives), a music library and training. Even if people think they know how to use iTunes, we offer ‘industrial strength’ iTunes training, so that users can create multiple playlists through iTunes accounts.”

For more ideas on getting a program started, click here to read a Guest Blog post Cohen wrote for McKnight’s in June. Or, click here for more on Music & Memory and the documentary “Alive Inside.”

Screenings of the film started Wednesday, April 18, at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York City, and will continue throughout this weekend. Click here to read the December 2011 McKnight’s article about the Rubin Museum’s art therapy program for individuals with dementia and their caregivers.