- Walgreens has partnered with Music Health to provide access to a smartphone app called Vera that has AI create personalized song selections for people with dementia.
- Research shows that music and reminiscence therapy can improve the psychological and emotional state of people with dementia.
- Music also reduces behavioral challenges such as agitation and depression in people living with dementia, which can relieve stress for caregivers.
Research shows that music can be a powerful therapy for people living with dementia. Hearing a favorite song from the past can not only help with memory, but it can also lift a person’s spirits and help them stay motivated.
Music can also be incorporated into reminiscence therapy, which uses personal items such as old photographs and special items to help people with dementia to evoke memories. To make this process easier, Walgreens Find Care (the drugstore chain’s digital health platform) has partnered with a company called Music Health to provide families with an app to get personalized soundtracks for their loved ones with dementia.
Here’s what you need to know about the app, including why you might want to consider trying it if you’re caring for a loved one with dementia.
Reminiscence therapy and the soundtrack of one’s life
Sam Fazio, MD, senior director of quality care and psychosocial research at the Alzheimer’s Association, told Verywell that using music to support people with dementia has been shown to help reduce and manage dementia-related behaviours. such as agitation and refusal to eat.
According to Fazio, music is one of the non-pharmacological interventions that can help both people living with dementia and their caregivers.
Using music that is meaningful to a person can help with symptoms such as apathy, repetitive questions, sleep problems, and inappropriate behavior that are common in people living with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
Reminiscence therapy (which may include music) is used in many memory care facilities and skilled nursing facilities. Therapy also involves helping a person with dementia create a life story or using pictures and activities to prompt memories and conversations.
Songs should strike a chord
Making music part of therapy for someone with dementia requires some nuance—it can’t just be any music. Songs should relate to a person’s past (think of it as the “soundtrack to their life”) and be part of a person-centered assessment.
“We want to make sure we understand what’s important to somebody,” Fazio said. “If music hasn’t been or isn’t a part of someone’s life, we don’t want to make it a part of someone’s life.”
Plus, while some research on reminiscence therapy shows some possible benefits, more studies are needed, as the findings so far have been conflicting.
Music to the ears of a loved one
The app that Walgreens supports is called Vera. Nick Johnson, founder and CEO of Music Health, clarified that the app does not make playlists. Instead, Vera uses artificial intelligence (AI) to create a virtual radio station with an assortment of songs or music that changes over time.
According to Johnson, the Vera app is a wellness tool, not music therapy. Music therapy refers to health professionals who use music to achieve health goals.
The list of songs produced by Vera is based on information about the person living with dementia that the carer enters into the app. This matching process involves answering questions about the person, including their age, where they were born, where they lived as teenagers and young adults, and what genres of music they like to listen to.
“We’re asking basic questions about musical tastes,” Johnson said. “Based on that, we have enough information as a starting point to find the right music for that person.”
The power of a playlist isn’t just that music from a person’s past triggers memories—it can also calm a person who’s agitated or uncommunicative.
Change your ringtone
The playlist will adapt and adjust over time based on information about how the person with dementia responds to it. Music Health has licensed the entire catalog of Universal Music Group, which gives the Vera app access to hundreds of thousands of records and songs from every genre.
The caregiver can regularly update the app on the person’s mood and behavior, which helps fine-tune the music selection.
For example, did a song reduce arousal? Has someone else helped an uncommunicative person start connecting with others? If a song elicits a negative response or the person doesn’t like it, a quick push of a button ensures that the song is never played again.
How to get the Vera app
The base Vera app costs $89.99 per year or $49.99 for a six-month membership with a free trial. It can be downloaded from Google Play and App Store. If Vera is picked up through Walgreens Find Care, there is a $5 discount.
Most families will get the benefits with the basic app, but there is also a version called Vera Pro for facilities caring for people living with dementia.
Karen May, a spokeswoman for Walgreens, said that by making Vera available through the Walgreens Find Care platform (on Walgreens.com and the Walgreens app), the company is “able to provide people living with various forms of dementia with convenient and affordable access to personalized music from their computers and smart devices.”
What does this mean for you?
If you care for someone living with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia, you may want to check out the Vera app. It uses information about your loved one and AI to put together a personalized station of songs for them to listen to.
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts in our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
Moreno-Morales C, Calero R, Moreno-Morales P, Pintado C. Music therapy in the treatment of dementia: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Front Med (Lausanne). 2020; 7: 160. doi:10.3389/fmed.2020.00160
Scales K, Zimmerman S, Miller SJ. Evidence-based non-pharmacological practices for managing behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia. Gerontologist. 2018; 58 (suppl_1): S88-S102. doi:10.1093/geront/gnx167
Woods B, O’Philbin L, Farrell EM, Spector AE, Orrell M. Reminiscence therapy for dementia. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2018;3(3):CD001120. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD001120.pub3
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