iPod Program Helping Alzheimer’s Patients

Jen McGeehan
June 15, 2016

It was one of those aha moments as I sat on our couch and watched the 180-degree transformation. 

Alive Inside, the most awarded documentary of 2014, chronicles the life-changing experiences of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia who have been revitalized and awakened by the simple act of listening to the music of their youth on an iPod. Dan Cohen, founder of Music and Memory gives a peek into the lives of those who have been depressed, unresponsive, often unable to answer the simplest of questions for years, and the immediate transformation when they listen to “their music” downloaded onto the iPod with headset. 

Tears came to my eyes as I witnessed Henry’s transformation. His portion of the documentary has been viewed by over seven million on YouTube, and it’s worth a few clicks to watch what happens when the earphones are placed on his head and the play button is pressed. You can see the pure, child-like joy on his face as he begins to listen to his favorite tunes. His head rose from the drooped position, his eyes opened wide as saucers, and he began to sing along with clarity and animation. The music restored Henry to himself. He re-acquired his identity through the power of his specific music. Simply astounding!

Henry isn’t the only one featured in the three-year documentary. Some who have been angry and depressed for years are suddenly transformed into happy, communicative people, able to share their thoughts, opinions and feelings with caregivers, family and friends. They sing, dance, raise their hands in the air, and express such relief in joining the world of the living once again.

I am the founder and coordinator for the Christian Women’s Gathering, an annual non-denominational event that began in Big Bear, California in 2004, then expanded to Oregon and the Big Island in 2015. Our on-going commitment to support various needs in our community could be the avenue for supporting the Music and Memory program. When I contacted Music and Memory, asking for a list of participating facilities on our island, I was shocked to hear there were none. This was the birth of iPods For The Elderly.

At the close of the 2016 Christian Women’s Gathering, we were thrilled to have $1,200 earmarked to begin our program. In addition, I had secured the much-needed technical support required for locating, purchasing, and downloading the specific music onto gently-used iPods by enlisting tech-savvy high school teenagers participating in an innovative program called Teen Tech Tutors. Teen Tech Tutors, which began in November 2012, has served over 200 clients, utilizing the skills of over 20 teen volunteer tutors. This unique program offers a vital service while bridging the generational gap between teens and elders. 

“It gives me hope that one day we’ll be paying as much attention to our community elders as we do our youth, with the two having found common ground in music.” said Dan Cohen, founder of Music and Memory. 

iPods For The Elderly is available free of charge through an ever-expanding list of Big Island Elder Care facilities, and those receiving in-home care. For more information, and to become a participating facility or family, please contact me at 808.747.2365 or jenmcgeehan1@gmail.com. If you would like to donate your iPod Shuffle, headset and/or ear buds, or would simply like to support this innovative program through a tax-deductible financial gift, I would love to hear from you. Your financial gift will help to offset the cost of purchasing the music as well as gently used iPods and headsets. 

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