Wednesday, May 22, 2024
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Music’s positive effects on dementia

My mother loves music. She has loved it her whole life, and she continues to love it today, in the final stages of Alzheimer’s Disease. 


I’ve brought musician Trey Terada to play for her, and it momentarily reverses her condition from her usual flat affect to someone connected and engaged with life. It awes and humbles me every time.

That’s why hearing about a national program called MUSIC & MEMORY℠ caught my attention. The goal of this non-profit organization, according to its website at, is to bring “personalized music into the lives of the elderly or infirm through digital music technology, vastly improving quality of life.”

“Even for persons with severe dementia, music can tap deep emotional recall. For individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s, memory for things—names, places, facts—is compromised, but memories from our teenage years can be well-preserved,” writes

The program came to Hawaii in 2014 through the help of Bob Kane, a faculty member of ‘Iolani Schools and an instructor of its hospice class. Kane worked with Manoa Cottage Kaimuki staff to get iPod shuffles, buy iTunes music, and personalize playlists for its 27 residents, making it the first private skilled nursing facility in the state certified in “Music & Memory.”

Executive director and administrator of Manoa Cottage Kaimuki  (and its sister campus, Manoa Cottage Care Homes) Calvin Hara says the care home has iPods for everyone and 1,000 songs. He observes that patients respond differently to the music.

“It’s day to day with some people. One day they might not be so responsive, but another day, the music might really help calm them down.” What he does see regularly, though, is that “the ability to recall favorite music and lyrics is consistent.” Sometimes, music can be used to calm a person down instead of medication.

Hara, with 25 years working in the geriatric industry, wasn’t surprised at all about my mother’s response to music. “It’s so common. We see it gets their attention, sharpens their focus, and stimulates the part of the brain in which music is stored,” he confirms.

It doesn’t matter, he says, if it’s live or taped music, though live music has an advantage. “They can interact with the musicians. They see their facial responses, their feelings. It enhances that connection with people, with life.”

That, it does. My mother is constantly gazing at Trey and trying to hold his hand. I’m so happy that something as simple as music can provide this.

Hara says there are community volunteers who play music for the residents, but he is always looking for new ways to bring in music, as well as create music for in-house programs. “It doesn’t have to be a professional group. Church choirs, kanikapila groups, or even elementary school children are great. It’s about the energy, the movements, the colors, the sounds.”

While the care home is fully stocked with iPods right now, if you’d like to support its Music & Memory program, Hara says you can donate iTunes gift cards.

He’s happy for this program. “We appreciate this program because by playing our residents’ musical favorites, it helps bring them back to life, letting them feel like themselves again.”

For more information, contact:
Calvin M. Hara
Executive Director and Administrator
Manoa Cottage Care Homes
Manoa Cottage Kaimuki
748 Olokele Avenue
Honolulu, HI 96816
phone: (808) 426-7852
fax: (808) 734-0838


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