Dementia: New music platform aims to help slow progress among elderly

Dementia: New music platform aims to help slow progress among elderly
Credit: Steven HWG / Unsplash

Music is not just a source of entertainment, it also improves the mood and well-being of people with senile dementia. That's why Australian start-up Music Health has launched Vera, a platform that offers personalised playlists to seniors who want to delay the effects of cognitive decline.

Vera is especially aimed at people with dementia. The World Health Organisation estimates that between 5-8% of seniors aged 60 and over suffer, at some point, from this state of deterioration of intellectual functions. This was the case for the grandmother of Nicc Johnson, one of the founders of Vera.

"My grandmother had Alzheimer's disease at a time when dementia was not well understood,” Johnson said. “It wasn't until much later in my life that I learned that this is not a normal consequence of ageing."

Johnson and partner Stephen Hunt hope to help people with dementia and their loved ones fight cognitive ageing with Vera. The application uses algorithms to create music playlists adapted to each of its senior users. The goal is to stimulate many regions of their brain and bring back memories.

The magic of music

American researchers found in 2018 that music improves the mood of people with senile dementia. To demonstrate this, they made about thirty patients of a retirement home listen to their favourite songs for about twenty minutes. As a result, the participants in the study seemed more present and serene. They also interacted more with those around them.

Vera hopes to have the same effect on older people with dementia. The platform analyses millions of songs from the Universal Music group's catalogue, in order to identify those that will most stimulate the cognitive system of each senior.

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"When a person arrives on the platform, we ask them where they were born and when, and then where they grew up between the ages of 15 and 35," Hunt said. Depending on the person's place of birth, the music they listened to in their life varies widely. These songs are then divided into three types of playlists: those to relax, those to gain dynamism and those to remember memories.

Vera is currently available on iOS in the EU, UK, US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Seniors with dementia or their loved ones can get a monthly or annual subscription to use it. But the founders of the application especially want them to be used in retirement homes and institutions for the elderly.

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