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Music and Memory in Bloomington

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The Music and Memory club at IU is made up of a group of undergraduate and graduate students and supporting faculty members who recognize the urgency for actively rethinking and reforming approaches for the care and treatment for elders living with dementia and Alzheimer’s in the Bloomington community. The club was founded by a group of students currently taking Prof. Jennie Gubner’s service learning “Music and Memory” course in the IU Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology.

The goal of the Music & Memory Club at IU is to create personalized iPod playlists for elders with dementia and Alzheimer’s living in the Bloomington community. These playlists, held on iPods, will then be made available to them to use on a daily basis through their care facilities.

Through our volunteer work we aim to break down the idea that music is only a form of entertainment, and encourage caregivers, family and nursing home staff to use the playlists we create to combat anxiety, depression, sundowning, memory loss, and other symptoms associated with dementia and Alzheimer’s. This is the work that Dan Cohen, founder of the nationwide Music and Memory program, has been doing for years.

One of the main objectives the Music and Memory program is to reduce the extravagant overuse of damaging psychotropic drugs in geriatric care. Studies have shown that, not only are these medicines harmful to elders, but in many cases music can be just as effective if not much more so when used in their place.


This Spring, the students of Gubner’s Music and Memory course created personalized playlists for 18 individuals at two certified Music and Memory facilities in the Bloomington area. In fall 2017, we will continue this work and need your help!

Many facilities cannot afford the cost of certification which provides training to staff, equipment, and ongoing online support for the program. The cost of certifying a new facility is approximately $1000 dollars, and the cost of each iPod set (iPod, headphones, and iTunes gift card) is approximately $100. Our goal of fundraising $2,500 would allow us to certify two new residencies and purchase equipment to help us move forward with this project.

Any donation would be greatly appreciated, and would go towards implementing the program in Bloomington facilities and buying iPods for the residents.


In their later years, many elders in our families and communities will experience symptoms of dementia including short term memory loss, small changes in personality, and other forms of cognitive impairment. Dementia can take many forms, however, one of the most common and most tragic types of dementia is Alzheimer's Disease. Alzheimer’s Disease is a degenerative brain disease that can strip individuals of their ability to walk, communicate effectively with people, and complete daily tasks like getting out of bed and getting dressed.The effects of Alzheimer’s often causes elders to lose memories of their family and loved ones.

Even though Alzheimer's Disease plagues about 5 million people in the United States alone, there is inadequate funding for research, poor education and awareness, and insufficient treatment and living conditions for those suffering from the disease. As young researchers, scholars, and clinicians in training, we want to promote culture change about geriatric care of our current and future generations, rethink how we treat our elders, and construct health care programs that advocate wellness and creative living as integral to everyday life.


Although there is currently no cure, researchers have been exploring different ways to improve the quality of life of people suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s. One approach that has been explored recently is the implementation of individualized music in care facilities. Research has shown that music is capable of improving quality of life for elders with dementia and bringing back memories that were thought to be lost. Research has also shown that when suffering from Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, the part of the brain that remembers and processes music is usually one of the last to go.

The Music and Memory Program was developed by social worker Dan Cohen, whose goal is to distribute iPods to every nursing home in America and now around the world. The purpose of the Music & Memory program is to reach out to individuals and connect with their musical memories. Our hope is that each participant will be able to connect with memories from their past, or discover new songs that bring them joy. In some cases we are able to recover lost memories, and in other, we focus instead on creating moments of wellness and togetherness through sound and through our intergenerational collaborations. We also hope to create a more pleasant and comfortable environment for patients who often experience boredom, solitude, confusion, and anxiety in connection with their condition.


Our class has worked this semester to make playlists and also to create short ethnographic films to help raise awareness about our work. As soon as more films are done we will share them here! In the meantime, check out these films below to see the nature of our work!

1) This short film was made in Spring 2017 (this past semester!) by Anna Lubbers, Wesley Corey, Zoe Schrader, Elizabeth Sexton, Sarah Bobby and Nathan Sidell, all undergraduate students at IU Bloomington.

2) This film was made by Professor Jennie Gubner’s student’s last year through a course she taught at Colby College in Maine.

3) This clip is from the Music & Memory Official website and is the video that went viral and helped Dan Cohen’s program initially gain widespread visibility.

You can also read about our films and research in these news articles about us!

Help us spread the word and please get in touch if you want to be involved! Thanks!


  • Zoe Dunbar
    • $10 
    • 6 yrs

Organizer and beneficiary

Maggie Kennedy
Bloomington, IN
Jennie Gubner

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