November 27, 2018

MUSIC & MEMORY®: Personalized Playlists Awaken the Mind and Spirit

In the award-winning 2014 film, Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory, Alzheimer’s patients are seen experiencing moments of profound expression—true miracles—through music therapy. The documentary follows the uplifting mission of Dan Cohen, founder of the non-profit organization, MUSIC & MEMORY®, while exploring music’s ability to “reawaken our souls and uncover the deepest parts of our humanity.”

We, at LightBridge, were both thrilled and inspired when we saw the film. With a passion for serving  patients living with Alzheimer’s, dementia and other cognitive impairments, we began communicating directly with the wonderful people at MUSIC & MEMORY® to bring this unique and extraordinary program to families in San Diego.

Early Adopters of a Now International Initiative

MUSIC & MEMORY® was conceived from Cohen’s wish that if he ended up in a nursing home, he would be able to listen to his favorite music from the ‘60s—but the organization’s merit runs much deeper. Cohen found that bringing iPods into long-term care facilities and playing personalized music improved outcomes. In other words, it worked!

LightBridge was one of the first hospices in the U.S.—at one point, we were one of only six—to obtain MUSIC & MEMORY® certification while the program was still in relative infancy. We went through hours of training and practice because we understood and embraced the power of these personalized playlists to add joy to their days for our hospice patients, their families and caregivers. Today, although the number of certified hospices  is still relatively small, MUSIC & MEMORY® has expanded to hundreds of assisted living, nursing, home health and adult day care providers across the country and around the world.


Music Detectives

Research shows that individuals with dementia, memory loss, and even anxiety or depression can benefit from personalized playlists  highlighting their past experiences. In order to create those playlists, our volunteers become “music detectives.”

“We train them to ask the right questions in the right context to reveal patients’ history and cherished memories,” said Sarah Joslyn, Manager of Volunteer Services at LightBridge. “Aside from uncovering the patient’s life story as it relates to music, the process also develops trust and rapport.”

Chrissy Isip, a program volunteer, explained, “It starts with trial and error; they’ll be receptive to some songs and not to others. Once you start visiting them regularly, they’ll open up a little more as to what type of music they like, live concerts they remember attending, and any other details they might be able to recall.”


Through the Ears, to the Brain, for the Soul

More than a form of therapy, MUSIC & MEMORY® is a chance for patients to reconnect with their personal stories and their loved ones, while also forging new connections with volunteers, caregivers and other patients.

“With Alzheimer’s and dementia, long-term memory is most often the last to be impacted by the disease,” said Pamela Hough, Senior Vice President, Operations/Administrator at LightBridge. “And so music is in many ways their last path to remembering the life they’ve lived and the joy it has held. A playlist isn’t so much what we think they might want to hear, but rather, a representation of what they can recollect and, in essence, relive.”

Program Assistant for LightBridge Hospice Community Foundation Tara Ash-Reynolds shared her observations of patients during MUSIC & MEMORY®, describing the experience as an awakening. “They are immersed in that moment,” she said. “The music transports them to when they were young and well. You can see the excitement in their eyes.”


Pure, Profound Joy—All Around

Family members often accompany their loved one for music sessions, adding to the emotional impact. Joslyn told a story of a woman who had not been able to truly speak with her mother in months because of the effects of the mother’s condition. Through MUSIC & MEMORY®, the two were able to have an entire conversation with the mother sitting upright and lucid. 

Isip articulated the sense of gratitude, accomplishment and utter happiness shared through the room when these types of moments come to fruition. “As much as it is my job to give to the patient, I also believe the patient is giving back to me through their own stories. We’re enabling them to connect to their path, and then walking down that path together.”

The word that best encapsulates personalized music therapy is profound. It’s profound for the patient, profound for their families, and profound for all of us on the LightBridge team. We are extremely proud to be aligned with such an impactful program in MUSIC & MEMORY®, and are committed to harnessing the power of a playlist as part of our holistic approach to hospice.


Chrissy Isip and her patient

To learn more about MUSIC & MEMORY®, visit

For more information on our specialty programs for patients living with dementia, click here.