PODCAST: Music in Nursing Homes with Dan Cohen

March 20, 2023
7 minute read
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We have launched our new podcast, LUCID LISTENS! Listen to the first episode here: 

In 2012, a clip from the documentary film Alive Inside went viral, going on to amass over 50 million views and become the most viewed video related to dementia globally. The film explores the potential of music as a powerful tool to improve the quality of life of people living with dementia. The mind behind Alive Inside is Dan Cohen, who came up with the idea after realizing that iPods, which were dubbed “ubiquitous” by a journalist at the time, were not accessible to older people, especially those living in nursing homes. He saw firsthand the transformative effect of personalized music on those living with dementia, and since then has been on a mission to make music accessible to all. In this podcast interview, Dan shares more on his hit documentary, insights into the potential of music in the dementia field including digital therapeutics, and how far the industry has come since Alive Inside’s debut.

Music can transcend barriers.

“Music is an easy way to reach many people.”

Dan explains how those living in nursing homes on average get only 11 minutes of meaningful activity per day, but music can be an easy way to reach people and increase their engagement.

Choirs, singing, playing a favourite instrument, or listening to personalized music all have benefits and can be incorporated into one’s routine in a multitude of ways. Additionally, those living with dementia may frequently travel between places or be faced with stressful situations. If music is integrated into that routine then it can keep them calm, connected, more alert and in the moment, says Dan.

Personalization is key.

“Music will not work if we do not know what people like.”

During the documentary making process, Dan called his approach to finding effective songs for individuals living with dementia being a "music detective." He believes that it is crucial to learn about a person's significant life memories or experiences, such as their wedding song, in order to select music that resonates with them. 

The culture around aging needs a change.

“I really think young people can change the culture more quickly.”

Teaching people about dementia at an earlier age will benefit everyone. “It should start as early as middle school”, as something that will touch our lives sooner or later. Raising awareness about non-pharmaceutical ways to help ease symptoms is also necessary.

Accessibility in music is important, but so are usability and sustainability.

“If it’s not user friendly, [...] as they perceive the world, then we’re wasting our time.”

Since the release of Alive Inside almost a decade ago, many technological developments have taken place that have helped to reduce the technology barrier for older people. However, music needs to be accessible for easy usability and sustainability. 

Dan believes that a good first step to making music accessible to people who may benefit is to integrate music into daily life, whether at home or in a long-term care setting.

Digital therapeutics as a resource.

“Digital therapeutics have a wonderful potential.”

Dan recognizes the potential of digital therapeutics in the music and dementia fields, namely in using feedback systems to understand how people respond to music and its ability to develop pathways that measure which music should come next for the best interest of the individual. Artificial intelligence also has great potential, according to Dan, and it comes down to how we can combine traditional and new technologies for the best outcomes.

Dan co-authored an article in Frontiers in Digital Health called “Developing a music-based digital therapeutic to help manage the neuropsychiatric symptoms of dementia.” The article outlines LUCID’s research with key opinion leaders in dementia care such as Dan himself, development plans, and future exploratory trials to determine the safety and efficacy of a new digital therapeutic called LUC-101.

Closing thoughts

The potential of music in the dementia field is becoming more widely recognized, but we can all do more to implement these practices into everyday life. We should all expect fair and equitable care, both for ourselves and for others, and music can be a powerful tool for all.

LUCID will be conducting trials to investigate the relationship between sound and Alzheimer's. To learn more about LUC-101 and join LUCID's interest list for future clinical trials, visit here.

For more information about Dan’s work, visit www.righttomusic.com.