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Music & Memory: An Interview with Dan Cohen

When the team at Blakeford at Green Hills was introduced to the non-profit program Music & Memory, we wanted to be a part of their mission – to bring personalized music into the lives of our residents, helping improve their quality of life. After our certification in the Spring of 2015, a small group of Blakeford team members began working with residents and their families to create playlists of their favorite songs. We’re still early on in the journey but, so far, it has been filled with moments of joy, tears, toe tapping, and the building of new connections with residents and families.

We recently spoke with Dan Cohen, Music & Memory’s Executive Director, to learn more about the program, its beginnings, mission, and growth.

Blakeford: On the Music & Memory website, it’s noted that if you ended up in a nursing home, you wanted to be able to listen to your favorite ‘60s music. What prompted you to consider that?

Dan Cohen, MSW, Music & Memory Executive Director

Dan Cohen, MSW, Music & Memory Executive Director

Dan Cohen: I’ve spent a career helping individuals and organizations leverage technology. When I heard a journalist stating as fact that iPods were ubiquitous, that they’re
everywhere, I thought that was not accurate for elders living in long-term care. I wanted to change that so that by the time anyone I knew (or myself) ended up in a nursing home we’d all have our music.

B: When you were first beginning to approach facilities about using iPods with personalized playlists for residents, what was the biggest hurdle you had to overcome?

DC: The hurdles varied. For those who “got it” knowing the potential, they didn’t know how to pay for the devices or the music. Others did not fully understand the potential impact that truly personalized music could bring.

B: What was it that started changing people’s minds about the program for their facility/community?

DC: Word-of-mouth success from one nursing home to another, followed by a grant match program a New York City foundation supported, followed by the Henry video, and then release of Alive Inside. Each of these helped increase awareness of this approach.

B: How has the Music & Memory staff grown and developed over the years?

DC: Music & Memory is a small nonprofit that provides education, training and support to health care organizations around the benefits of personalized music. We currently have thirteen full-time staff supporting these efforts.

B: Did you ever think at the beginning of this journey that Music & Memory would become a global program in a few short years?

DC: I’m thrilled and humbled that people are finding this approach so helpful for the ones in their care.

B: What has been your favorite moment, if you can pick just one, since Music & Memory began?

DC: There are just a number of favorites, and they are all memories of those who have “lit up” when re-connected with their favorite music.

B: What’s in store for Music & Memory in 2016?

DC: We’re always learning new ways the music can benefit. Through increased sharing of best practice among our 2,000 M&M certified facilities, we will continue to leverage the music so that it is more effective more of the time for more people.

Below is a look at how Music & Memory is touching the lives of two of Blakeford’s residents.

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