Alzheimer Society of Toronto aims to donate 10,000 iPods to stir happy memories for dementia patients

Domenica Bianchi listens to music from the 1930s on her iPod outside of the Harold and Grace Baker Centre in Toronto. The Alzheimer's Society of Toronto plans to distribute 10,000 iPods to people living with dementia in an effort to calm the affects of the condition.
Domenica Bianchi listens to music from the 1930s on her iPod outside of the Harold and Grace Baker Centre in Toronto. The Alzheimer’s Society of Toronto plans to distribute 10,000 iPods to people living with dementia in an effort to calm the affects of the condition.

From The Toronto Star:

The Society launched the iPod Project last December, and even though it has delivered only 200 iPods so far, the organization plans to ramp up donation efforts this fall. Its three-year goal is 10,000.

The Toronto program is modelled after Music and Memory, a non-profit based in New York that delivers personally loaded mp3 players to people. The Alzheimer Society of Toronto worked closely with Music and Memory to develop its own program, according to Scott Russell, director of community engagement.

He said interest in the project initially came from a YouTube video that went viral last summer. In it, an elderly man named Henry who has dementia sits mostly inert and unresponsive. But when he hears music from his generation, his eyes light up and he starts to shake his head and move his arms like he’s dancing.

In Toronto, Russell said he’s seen similar results. “There was a lady who was absolutely resistant to the idea,” he said. “She wasn’t really into it, wasn’t really there, but she listens to the music and at one point breaks down in tears, it makes her so happy.”

It can’t be just any music, though, and Lee Bartel, a professor in music education and association dean of research at the University of Toronto, said the choice of music is crucial.

Music specific to someone’s teenage years resonates deeply in their brains, Bartel said, even if it’s not as powerful or as vibrant as when they were young.

Unlike language, Bartel said, music is stored on “multiple dimensions,” which makes it easier to arouse the brain even decades later, and even after a diagnosis of dementia.

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