Music & Memory—Research

Evaluations of Music and Memory in Wisconsin

University of Wisconsin—Eau Claire

University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire logo

Impact on Staff and Environment

The goal of this Music & Memory research project is to extend the existing research to determine the impact on the staff of nursing homes and the overall work environment of the memory care unit in nursing homes from participation in a Music & Memory project. Anecdotally, there are numerous reports that suggest a Music and Memory project can have significant secondary impacts on staff and the work environment of long-term care facilities. Observations suggest that a Music & Memory project can contribute to better relationships among staff, residents and family members; a more relaxed and calm environment; less staff time spent managing behavioral issues; and, less staff turnover (Amin, 2014). 

In the second phase of the Wisconsin Music & Memory Project, 150 nursing homes received a grant, training and certification, and support to implement the project with 10 residents in each facility. The evaluation for this phase will focus the research on the staff of the memory units in each of the 150 facilities and the overall work atmosphere of the unit or agency. Agency staff will be surveyed close to the start of the Music & Memory Project, at three months, and at six months.

Eau Claire Community Pilot Program

The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire (UWEC) Department of Social Work is implementing a community pilot program of the Music and Memory program in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. The goals are to: 1) bring the benefit of personalized music to persons with dementia living in their homes (or a caregiver’s home) and to 2) evaluate the feasibility of this project. This program will include 25 participants living in the community with a caregiver. UWEC is partnering with the Eau Claire Aging and Disability Resource Center (ADRC), who will recruit participants and also provide participants with other community resources. The UWEC research team will seek caregivers’ perspectives by collecting data from the Caregiving Distress Scale (CDS) at intake and at three-month follow-up. In addition, at the three-month point, they will also have series of questions to ask caregivers that include questions about how the caregivers and the persons they care for use the iPod and how the music impacts the caregivers and the persons for whom they care. The hope is that the music intervention will not only help people with dementia, but will also help support caregivers and reduce caregiver stress.

Final Report:

University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee

Logo of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Logo for the Center for Aging and Translational Research

Dr. Jung Kwak and Dr. Michael Brondino from the Center on Aging and Translational Research in the Helen Bader School of Social Welfare, at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, will conduct the evaluation of the Wisconsin Music & Memory program. Dr. Thomas Fritsch will serve as a consultant for this evaluation.

Dr. Kwak's primary research areas focus on quality of care in long-term care settings, end-of-life care decision making, and developing caregiver support interventions at the end of life.

Dr. Brondino is trained as a quantitative psychologist and has more than 25 years of experience in the design and implementation of research in applied settings and in the analysis of data from such studies.

Dr. Fritsch's research over the past 10 years has focused on translating epidemiological findings into rational, applied programs to serve people with neurodegenerative illnesses but by using non-pharmacologic approaches.

Evaluation Details

The evaluation will use data collected by the original one hundred nursing homes and will be collected in two ways.

  • Of the 100 nursing homes, 90 of them will select 15 residents to participate. The research team will use a portion of the MDS (Minimum Data Set) data that is being collected for those residents.
  • The remaining 10 nursing homes will be part of a more intensive data collection process. The researchers at these sites will randomly select six residents to participate in the evaluation, and the nursing home staff will select the other nine participants.
  • The six randomly selected residents will receive a special iPod Touch, with an application that tracks the music the resident is listening to, as well as how often the resident is listening to it.
  • A research assistant will visit the residents and observe their behavior at randomly selected time points.
  • At the end of the evaluation, the researchers will examine the data collected to determine whether the Wisconsin Music & Memory program has any impact on resident behaviors, or on the use of antipsychotics or antianxiety medications.

Final Report:

University of Wisconsin—Oshkosh

University of Wisconsin - Oshkosh logo

Effects of an In-Home Personalized Music Program for People with Dementia, Susan H. McFadden, Ph.D. (Principal Investigator), University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh

Funded by a grant from the Helen Bader Foundation (now Bader Philanthropies) to purchase equipment and reimburse students for mileage, Susan McFadden is leading a team of UW-Oshkosh undergraduate and graduate students in Psychology to organize and evaluate a pilot project to see how the Music & Memory program might be employed by persons living at home with dementia. The grant enabled us to purchase iPods, chargers, headphones, small speakers, iTunes gift cards, and plastic storage boxes for 25 persons.

Participants with dementia and their care partners have been recruited through the memory cafés operated by the Fox Valley Memory Project, and through the Memory Assessment Center, a component of the Fox Valley Memory Project that operates out of the Fox Valley Family Medicine Residency Center. An article in the Appleton Post Crescent also brought inquiries from people interested in participating.

Teams of two students, or a student and Dr. McFadden, interviewed participants about their favorite music. Then they loaded the playlists onto the iPod shuffles and returned to teach people how to use them. Participants received an instruction card for using the iPods along with a list of suggestions on how persons with dementia and their care partners can enjoy various music activities while listening to the small speaker. At that meeting, students administered the Bath Assessment of Subjective Quality of Life in Dementia scale to persons with dementia, and left a brief, simple scale measuring the quality of music listening experience for the participant to complete. Care partners were asked to complete and return the Caregiving Distress Scale, the GAIN in Alzheimer Care Instrument, and the Revised Memory and Behavior Problems Checklist.

Return visits occurred in late Spring 2015 to repeat the administration of these scales and to conduct interviews about people’s experiences with their personalized music. A final report will be posted to this website.

Since September 2014, Susan McFadden has had weekly meetings with a group of graduate and undergraduate students in Psychology at UW-Oshkosh to plan two research projects involving Music & Memory. One team of four students is working on the In-Home Pilot Project that is bringing personalized music to people with dementia still living in their own homes. The other four-person team is doing a research project at Evergreen in Oshkosh to determine if regular participants in the Music & Memory program affects social interactions among long-term care residents with dementia.

None of these students receives course credit for this work, yet all are highly committed to it. They volunteer a considerable amount of time to doing various tasks including conducting interviews, loading iPods, keeping track of participants, and collecting, and analyzing data.

These students care deeply about the Music & Memory program. All of them participated in the webinar training sessions in the Fall of 2014. In addition, for their weekly lab meetings, they read and discuss journal articles recommended by Dr. McFadden. Because they recognize how much their favorite music means to them, they are glad to have the opportunity to bring personalized music to people with dementia.

Final Report:

Music & Memory Project—Current Research

Wisconsin DHS Evaluations

Articles and Journals

Effects of Personalized Music on Caregivers of Older Adults With Dementia in the Community. Wisconsin Medical Journal (July 2019) (PDF)

Unnecessary Drugs and Antipsychotic Medications. Justice in Aging (2017) (PDF)

Elder Abuse in Nursing Facilities: The Over-Administration of Antipsychotic Drugs to Nursing Home Residents (June 2015)

Listening to Religious Music and Mental Health in Later Life. The Gerontologist (April 15, 2014)

Study breaks blood-brain barriers to understanding Alzheimer's. National Institutes of Health (December 13, 2013)

Alzheimer Society's iPod Project Offers Music to Soothe Troubled Souls. The Toronto Star (July 21, 2013)

British Health Official: Cure for Dementia Could Come by 2020. McKnights (July 11, 2013)

Medicare Drug Program Fails to Monitor Prescribers, Putting Seniors and Disabled at Risk. McKnights (May 22, 2013)

Rebecca Mead: New Ways to Care for People with Dementia. The New Yorker (May 20, 2013)

State-bound Study Says Singing May Aid Alzheimer's disease, Dementia. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (April 19, 2013)

Withdrawal Versus Continuation of Chronic Antipsychotic Drugs for Behavioral and Psychological Symptoms in Older People with Dementia. Cochrane Library (March 28, 2013)

Last Revised: August 13, 2020