By Josh Little, volunteer.

Cognitive impairment as a result of things like stroke, dementia, head trauma, and Alzheimer’s disease affects millions of older adults across the globe. Drugs used to treat these conditions often have side effects, so health experts are increasingly interested in non-pharmacological treatment methods. Music therapy is one of the most promising, especially in regards to how it can affect memory, mood, and communication. Research has shown that music therapy can reduce anxiety, depression, and agitation and can increase attention, orientation, and motor skill.

Emotions heighten memory and music can bring forth strong emotions. Most people listen to music throughout their lives, and specific genres or songs can be closely tied with meaningful events and feelings. Studies with Alzheimer’s patients have found that music popular in people’s pasts has been particularly effective at evoking autobiographical memory: memory of personal experiences with people, places, and things at specific times. Research subjects often responded better and showed more improvement in certain areas of cognition and self-awareness when exposed to familiar music compared to unfamiliar music.

In 2008, a project called “Music and Memory” started as a collaboration between the California Association of Health Facilities and University of California Davis. The goal was to see how personalized music playlists could reduce the need for medication and improve the day-to-day lives of patients. Playlists were built from songs from weddings, lullabies sung to babies, high school dances, and other positive events. The program has implemented individualized music listening programs for dementia patients in thousands of long-term care facilities throughout the United States and Canada. Music is a very personal thing for people. We naturally gravitate toward what makes us feel good and can choose not to listen to what we don’t like. Songs that were a part of poignant and formative times in our lives hold special places in our hearts.

Today, services like Spotify and iTunes give us affordable access to millions of songs with the capability to create playlists. We can listen anywhere with smart phones, mp3 players, and wireless speakers. Using a personalized music playlist is a cost-effective and easy way to integrate music in daily life.

Advance care planning often requires difficult decisions and can be hard to talk about. People who will be in need of long-term or memory care need to have their choices honored and their needs met. For patients to get the most out of music, having a select list of songs can be extremely useful for both creating music playlists or receiving music therapy. People already suffering from late-stage and serious cognitive impairment may not be able to communicate this information.

The Advanced Music Planning download is a simple tool that can be a part of any advance care strategy. It’s an easy way to help customize music therapy to the individual for the best care possible or simply share the playlist for enjoyment.  We encourage people of any age to fill it out.

A special thanks to Honoring Choices Wisconsin for creating the Advanced Music Planning download and allowing us to help increase awareness by making it available on our website.

Honoring Choices Wisconsin (HCW) is an initiative of the Wisconsin Medical Society (Society) to build system change, advocacy and education around advance care planning.