iPods coming to an eldercare facility near you

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Mary Gustafson, McKnight's Staff Writer
Mary Gustafson, McKnight's Staff Writer
When I first spoke to Music & Memory founder Dan Cohen over a year ago, he was hustling to get nursing homes to adopt his innovative program that provides iPods with personalized playlists to residents with Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia. His goal then was to make personalized playlists — as played on iPods — a standard of care in nursing homes and assisted living facilities for dementia care residents.

He's now on track to do just that.

“In the long-term, I know we can make this a standard of care. What that's going to look like in time, I'm not sure,” Cohen told me. “Maybe physicians will write prescriptions for iPod therapy. Maybe CMS [the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services] will include this in their funding stream.”

Spurred by the meteoric YouTube success of a viral video from a documentary on his project, Cohen has been inundated with requests for interviews, offers of help and questions from nursing home workers all over the world.

To deal with the overwhelming response from individual nursing homes, Music & Memory is starting a series of webinars for nursing homes that want to be trained on starting their own Music & Memory program.

Cohen says that implementing the Music & Memory's concept is one way for skilled nursing facilities to comply with Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services' push to reduce the usage of antipsychotics. In his experience, and in feedback from facilities that have given iPods to residents, dementia residents who listen to the music demonstrate a drastic reduction in “sundowning” and agitation. Residents also tend to be more cooperative and willing to socialize and engage with staff.

The webinars include three 90-minute sessions and walk trainees through the process of obtaining enough iPods for their facility (facilities must secure at least 20 iPods — which can be iPod Shuffles, Nanos, or iTouches); setting up an iTunes account and becoming proficient with the program; as well as strategies for finding out what each residents' musical preferences are. This last part is crucial.

Cohen says the personalization of the playlist is critical in soliciting a therapeutic benefit. For example, knowing just that a resident's favorite music genre is rock is not helpful. The category is so broad that facilitators could easily compile a list of 100 songs that don't have any special meaning or memories associated with them. The webinars offer techniques for selecting a playlist that's just right for the resident.

“The goal is not to have millions of songs that are most likely to resonate with a resident,” Cohen explained. He says that facilities that try to forgo extra training and implement projects like this on their own risk becoming short-handed — and short-changing residents. Nurses don't have enough time to juggle this therapy on their own — activity directors must be involved for a program to be successful.

The per-facility cost for Music & Memory webinars is $1,500; $900 for the second facility under same ownership or $600 for a third facility under same ownership.

Cohen is also getting some help from the Great White Way. When Dave Roth, a percussionist for the orchestra for the Broadway production of “Evita,” heard about Music & Memory, he launched the first annual United Broadway Artists iPod Drive, which collects used iPods for nursing homes.

Click here for a Music & Memory webinar schedule form and additional sign-up information.

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