Speakers - NWC 2024

Anish Ganesh

  • Designation: Vice President, The Dementia Project
  • Country: USA
  • Title: Silent Discos for Dementia Care: An Accessible Tool for Music Engagement


The symptoms of dementia often create a barrier between People Living with Dementia (PLWD) and their care partners, which fuels a cycle of worsening outcomes for both parties. Care partners need a tool that alleviates this communication barrier to improve behavioral outcomes and quality of life. Music is uniquely positioned to fill this void, as memories are rooted rhythmically in the brain in a region labeled the Musical Memory Area within the Auditory Cortex. This region can still be activated and is largely untouched throughout dementia.1 Therefore, effectively engaging to the tune of a familiar song can spark moments of joy, remembrance, and connection.

In response to this growing need for music as an accessible resource, The Dementia Project (TDP) created the Memory Disco, bringing the power of music into group settings such as family gatherings, memory care facilities, and hospitals. The program was designed in collaboration with neurologists from the University of Cincinnati over 8 years, resulting in a multisensory musical experience that combines silent disco technology with our Musical Engagement Program to maximize attention toward the music. TDP is the first organization in the United States to bring silent disco technology to dementia care.

Research indicates that silent discos are perceived as useful, and easy to use, and result in positive attitudes in PLWD and care partners alike.4 In fact, silent disco technology targets 3 barriers that limit musical engagement in dementia care: auditory needs, reduced attention span, and limited accessibility to live music. The independent volume adjustment and noise-canceling nature of each headphone maximize the hearing and attention of each participant. Furthermore, the use of technology allows dementia care partners to bring a powerful engagement tool into any place, at any time, by anyone–regardless of access to live music.
Our Musical Engagement Program adds to the technology component by integrating various engagement techniques to maximize an active listening response. Simply tapping the rhythm on the hands of a participant can lead to a decrease in agitation, an increase in stimulation of sensory systems, and an improved perception of the musical environment around them.5 This can create an organizing effect on movements, emotions, and thoughts, which are crucial to coping with the cognitive changes of dementia.

TDP has conducted over 200 Memory Discos, impacting over 500+ PLWDs and 1,500+ care partners. Its unique ability to engage 15-20 residents with a single facilitator, improve the mood of PLWDs, and increase connection with care partners, makes Memory Discos a prime tool for dementia care. While music is often regarded highly with respect to this community, there is a clear barrier to access to the type of music that fosters effective engagement. By leaning on technology to bridge the gap between effective life enrichment and limited resources within dementia care communities, Memory Discos is an innovative tool to combat caregiver burnout and the burden on understaffed facilities. Furthermore, this easily implementable tool introduces the power of music into any place, any time, by anyone– regardless of musical background. As such, this is a vital solution to improve the daily care for the millions affected by the disease today. By understanding the significance of music in dementia care, care partners can utilize music as a tool for building connections and creating new memories in a disease often characterized by what is forgotten.

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