Global Social Impact Initiative

Music and Memory is a non-profit organisation based in the United States. It helps the elderly with the power of music, i.e. through programming ipods with the music they loved when they were young. The following answers were generated with the help of an interview with Director of Programming Justin Russo.

1. What problem do you tackle?

It is our job and responsibility to provide as much as possible the comfort and well-being of people living with various types of dementia. We have learned that music is an excellent tool for improving the quality of life. We teach the proactive application of personalised music playlists to help individuals with a wide variety of not just dementia, but any type of physical and cognitive loss helping them to engage with the world, ease pain and ultimately to reclaim their humanity.

2. What is your approach?

We teach and certify organizations, usually health care organizations like nursing homes and assisted living hospital how to launch and sustain a personalized music program helping them to offer favourite music to people in their care. We call this process „Becoming a Music Detective“: You go through the work of getting to know someone's musical history, and what you're looking for is their favourite music from when they were teenagers or formative years, roughly ages 12 to 25, because research has shown that this is the time, when favourite music is being cemented into our brains. We can recall that later if you play those very favourite songs again, many decades later. We put about 15-25 songs on an ipod or a mp3 player at the beginning, and we ask the staff to continue to check in with that person after maybe three months and continue to discover in order to add new music so that the playlist does not get stale. Often it is an ipod or an mp3 player, but sometimes we use other technologies like streaming ones. The simpler the device is, the easier it is to get into circulation. It needs to be mobile (i.e. placed on the back of a wheelchair), because we recommend anytime access to the music. Furthermore, we recommend using the music approximately three times a day for half an hour. Recent studies have shown that there were some amazing results, i.e. a 12 to 20 percent decline in the use of antipsychotic and anti-anxiety medication, and a 20 percent decline in distressed behaviours. It does not only improve the quality of life for that person but the quality of care as well: It improves the culture of the organization, too, when distress behaviors can be lowered. Research has also shown a significant clinical decrease in reported chronic pain, because we know that listening to music is an excellent non-pharmacological way to reduce chronic pain; when we are distracted from the pain, we do not feel it as much.

3. How many people do you employ?

Currently Music and Memory has three paid staff. Since 2010, we have certified over 5800 healthcare sites. We have certified organizations in every state and in eight countries. Approximately 29 states have made Music and Memory part of the policy. Nevertheless we are still just reaching maybe two to three percent of the seniors living in long-term care nationwide and an even smaller percentage of the individuals at home with some type of dementia. As we always say we have a long way to go, but with everyone's help, we'll get there eventually.

4. How much money do you need to solve the problem in the country you operate? (estimate)

We need to expend about 60-75$ for each individual considerung the costs for an mp3 player, the music and the headphones. I think a large-scale grant would be very effective for Music and Memory to scale up. The pandemic has been a difficult time for many nursing homes. It has also been a difficult time for Music and Memory and it has made it difficult for us to obtain the necessary capital to scale further. This would be required in order for us to not just meet the needs here in the United States, but also worldwide, where we hope to go eventually. If we were to acquire one quarter million dollars per year for the next three years, we would have sufficient means to begin that process and be able to grow exponentially.

5. How much time would it take and what other ressources would be required?

We are nationwide, to really saturate the available market, we would need three years time at the described budget and mainly those resources would go to support. Support is required for every organization we certify. An ongoing support is critical for sustaining the program.

6. What would be the next steps, if you got the money for solving it nationally?

We would hire staff to provide follow-up support for organizations to help them with IT issues, equipment issues and application of the music. This is one of the biggest expenses that we would have at present. Volunteers often do this job, but we would need paid staff to do it were we to scale further. I would also deploy as many marketing initiatives including fundraising initiatives as possible. This has been a great limitation for us during the pandemic. If more people understood the power of Music and Memory and the ability to meet those needs, we would be in much better shape. At present, it's difficult for us even just to get the word out.

7. Contact information