Inside the new music app that helps people with dementia by stirring up memories with personalized playlists


Tony Bennett and Glen Campbell’s latest public concert appearances helped tell the world what many families of people with Alzheimer’s disease already know: that musical memories can be among the last to disappear.

A new app, Vera, is dedicated to helping dementia patients by creating personalized playlists that agitate different parts of the brain and can at least temporarily help with overall lucidity as well as mood. Universal Music Group announced this week that it is licensing its entire catalog for the app, which is the creation of Sydney-based company Music Health. The program, which Music Health COO Stephen Hunt says has “algorithms that produce recommended songs for people who can’t remember what they used to like,” is currently available for download at Apple’s App Store and will be rolling out to Android in the coming days.

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Hunt points to Bennett’s recent appearance on “60 Minutes” with Lady Gaga as a strong example of how music stimulates even the diminished brain.

“You look at that and you see he’s basically lifeless when he’s not listening to music,” Hunt explains. “As soon as it starts to play, he gets up. He can move better, he can speak better, he remembers words perfectly and he is almost back to himself. And then after about half an hour after the music ends, he kind of becomes someone with terminal Alzheimer’s again. So that’s a really good example of what we’re talking about – and to have that impact on anyone, we just need to find the songs from their past that are in their memory.

Although Music Health designed the app to be accessible to anyone who helps people with dementia, certainly including family members, Hunt says the way the program uses AI to take information about the person and selecting relevant songs can be more useful in situations where caregivers treat a lot of patients and don’t have much information about their backgrounds or tastes.

“When someone comes to the platform,” he says, “we ask them where they were born and when, and then where they grew up between the ages of 15 and 35. If it was Beijing, it would be very different that they were around compared to someone who was here in the United States, so it’s very important to have a diverse global catalog that can find hits from all over the world. Australia, where I’m from, hardly anyone was born there, especially at that age (of most dementia patients), because people came from all over the world and migrated. And we have to consider everyone’s past.

Hunt says Universal Music Group’s comprehensive catalog is so large that Music Health doesn’t need to license music from other companies. “We have an exclusive partnership with (UMG) for now, and they’ve been a great partner,” he says. “For the current product, we don’t need everything world music – we just need a lot of it.

The music in the app is presented in the form of three different playlists which are made up from the custom data entered. “We’ve made it super simple, recognizing that the people who will be running it probably aren’t necessarily all the most tech-savvy people. One is to help the person relax; one is to help energize them; and one is reminiscing – and reminiscing is really collecting all the songs that are attached to memories that they can sing or stamp their feet on. If this person becomes agitated or aggressive or even violent, this can become a very good intervention.

“It’s quite important to point out that where we’re really seeing the most impact is in care home settings. At home, the person is surrounded by familiar objects. And of course, Vera is also for people at home. Caring family members, he notes, may or may not be present at the right time in the lives of their affected loved ones to really know what music touched them the most during those crucial 15-35 years. . “But where we see the greatest opportunity to have a big impact is in a memory care unit or assisted living where the people caring for them have no idea about their past. and don’t have time to do research. and find out. And so we can take very simple information from the healthcare facility database and empower and empower caregivers with personalized music for everyone.

Hunt explains why music can provide temporary relief in the stressful lives of patients and caregivers. “The quick science is that a person with dementia has a low level of brain activity, and their short-term memory in particular is affected. Their long-term memory, however, is usually intact – that’s one of the last things to break down. And if we can stimulate that with music, we will create a chain reaction in the brain, because music is a complete brain exercise for us to interpret the sound signal and then listen to the words There are all these different aspects – the timbre, the rhythm, they are dealt with in different parts.

“And once the brain is stimulated, it lasts a little while,” he continues. “A recent study demonstrated that music over a regular usage pattern also leads to brain plasticity. So hopefully with further studies we can demonstrate that we can slow the onset of dementia. I doubt that we can ever say is preventive, but it is certainly a very useful daily exercise to keep the brain active and stimulated in a heightened state, and to return it to a somewhat normal pattern for periods of time, often What we really recommend when we come into a care setting is that they completely change the way they look after so that every interaction with caregivers has music on the side whether it’s back in the foreground or in the foreground where we are actively listening. We want to surround these people with songs that bring them into a more lucid state, and help them better understand where they are in space and in the world. ps. This leads to many benefits – reduced stress, reduced agitation – and we hope to be able to prove in the long term that it will lead to reduced hospitalizations and reduced violent episodes. And it’s much happier for everyone involved.

Music Health’s overall goals and future initiatives go beyond the realm of dementia.

“We then look at Parkinson’s disease,” Hunt says. “And I would say for some of those issues, we’re going to have to allow all music, especially if somebody’s curating their own playlists and things like that. I will also say that with some of these, if we’re looking for, say, depression/anxiety, we’ll probably develop our own soundscapes or AI-generated binaural beats and things like that. So there is a lot of leeway for what we can do in the future.

“Most ancient human civilizations have always used music in the healing process – the Aztecs, the Incas, the indigenous people of Australia. But since we discovered the drug, we kind of forgot about it. And I guess as a company we see an opportunity to kind of do what Headspace and Calm did for meditation and take something that’s scientifically proven and actually professionally practiced, but that’s put aside – and bring it into the mainstream by making it easy, affordable, and truly deployable for everyone.

UMG is proud to be the exclusive partner for this particular application. “At UMG, we work with a wide range of companies to develop therapeutic applications of music and we are proud to partner with Music Health on Vera to help improve the lives of so many people around the world,” said Michael Nash, EVP of UMG. of the digital strategy.

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