Give the Gift of Music

Want to Stimulate Wonderful Memories this Holiday?

'Music can lift us out of depression or move us to tears - it is a remedy, a tonic, orange juice for the ear. But for many of my neurological patients, music is even more - it can provide access, even when no medication can, to movement, to speech, to life. For them, music is not a luxury, but a necessity.’

- Dr. Oliver Sacks

Music has an incredible way of eliciting memories, it can bring someone back to a certain place and time in their life that they appreciate, and as well more sombre times that cause someone to pause and reflect on the music and the memories that are so vivid. It happens to all of us, the song Wagon Wheel originally co-written by Bob Dylan, and later completed by Old Crow Medicine Show, was a song that instantly elicited warm and engaging memories for me. It brings me back to the times I loved long summer nights and listening to amateur musicians settled around a campfire. Alternatively, music reminds you of people and places that don’t recall happy, fun memories, but rather memories that encourage someone to pause, and reflect on a loved one or instance that causes them emotion. The song, The Old Rugged Cross and The Last Post are two songs that will cause a lump in my throat each and every single time I hear them. Both causing me to reflect on experiences and very special people in my life that deserve recognition or remembrance. I encourage you to sit back while listening to the radio, or your iPod, and reflect on some of the music that’s coming across your screen - what music makes you think twice, or brings you back in your mind to a certain place and time?

You can still do that with your loved ones - the gift of the power of music!

Here, you’ll find step-by-step suggestions on how to provide your loved one with individualized music that suits their needs. There are also many published studies on google that support personalized music as supportive for those living with dementia, and if you have a box of kleenex ready and are up for a good cry, give yourself a gift this Christmas and watch the documentary Alive Inside on Netflix. You won’t be sorry!

First and foremost - take stock of what your loved one has - do they have an iPhone already that’s music compatible? Do they have a set of earphones that they love?

If they have an iPhone - purchasing an iTunes gift card as a gift and a nice pair of headphones could be all you need! That’s not including your time to set it up and determine the perfect playlist, of course.

The Device

If your loved one doesn’t have any music or electronic devices, your first step is to purchase a music player. If you’re lucky enough to find an iPod shuffle, they are incredibly easy to use and inexpensive. Alternatively, you can purchase any mp3 player or iPod that is capable of holding music. If your loved one is living in an assisted living or nursing home, purchasing a music player that has a clip on the back is a handy feature.

If your loved one already has an iPhone - adapt that so they can use that as a personalized music device!

IF you are purchasing a larger device and your taking it into skilled nursing or assisted living - have it engraved with your loved ones name and register the product to Apple, as well as connect it to ‘Find my iPhone’ - long term care homes are often large and an iPod could easily get lost in the shuffle! (no pun intended!)


Purchase a nice set of over-the-ear headphones. They are less invasive and help with cutting out some of the background noise. They are also comfortable and easier to apply for both your loved one and, if your loved one is in care, for the staff at the care home. If your loved one doesn’t like to wear anything on their head - like headphones - perhaps an iPod that has bluetooth capabilities so you can hook it up to a bluetooth speaker in their room might be a better alternative.

Purchase an armband or carrying case if you’re investing in a larger device - it will be easier to carry and take along if you’re using the iPod to help calm and engage your loved one.

If your loved one likes to spend time in specific rooms - purchase a bluetooth speaker. They can be purchased relatively inexpensively ($40 CAD) and can be linked up to an iPod or iPhone with just a few clicks of a button. If your loved one is in long term care - it might be helpful to give staff a crash course on how to use the music player and link up the player to the speaker once the gift is given.

Setting up the Music

This is the fun part! Spend some time with your loved one understanding what music they respond to. Do a little research to understand what era and genre of music they like. If they aren’t able to tell you, ask their wife/husband, brothers and sisters, cousins and friends. They’ll be able to add to the puzzle pieces of music that will weave throughout your loved one’s life. Bring your phone with you and a set of headphones and a bluetooth speaker, and start going through songs with your lvoed one. What do they respond to? What do they get excited to hear? Do they get up and dance? Those songs are the ones you want on the iPod, and depending on how they feel about it, perhaps you want to add those songs first! Don’t forget to play specific songs, like the wedding march, and Jingle Bells, to see if that brings back any vivid memories or brings an emotional response.

Once you have a compilation of 40 or more songs, load the music onto the music player. You can use a number of programs, Apple iTunes and Windows Media Player are the two that come quickest to mind. If you’re using an Apple product iTunes will be the program to use.

Once the music is loaded, sit back and enjoy. Encourage your loved one to listen to the music and enjoy the experience - to distract them from potentially stressful and uncomfortable situations. Encourage them to listen with they’re lonely, or if in long term care - when you leave for the day so they are less focused on your leaving.

If your loved one is in skilled nursing, or if you have at home care providers, it’s key to communicate regularly with them in using the personalized music. Encouraging any staff to use the personalized music to help your loved one settle and feel more comfortable is important, and communicating with them that the tool is available for them to use is key to successful implementation.

If you want to learn more about how to gather information to load a music player, and how to successfully implement into your organization, visit