Medical Mysteries of Music

What’s On Your Dementia Playlist? (Stay with Me on This One…)

My grandfather lived an impressive 102 1/2 years. Sadly, though, he was tormented by dementia through the last couple of years. What made it so tragic for the family is that he had periods of fantastic lucidity when he told us he knew he was losing his mind. Other times his misfiring neurons made him greatly agitated sometimes leading to vivid hallucinations. Not only did he not know where he was, he didn’t know when he was or who he was. It was gut-wrenching to watch.

But at least he had his radio. He’d often ask that it be turned on to a station that played old-time country and Ukranian songs from his youth. Not only would he calm down but the music often prompted memories. And then he’d talk about his life. Such is the power of music.

Larry points us to this article at The Tyee entitled “Should I Forget Who I Am, Play These Songs.” If, God forbid, you were to suffer from dementia or Alzheimer’s, what songs might people play to help you remember who you were?

If you haven’t already seen the 2014 documentary Alive Inside, fire up Netflix tonight and watch it. And as soon as it’s done and you’ve mopped up what might very well be a small bucket of sad-happy tears at all the lives changed by something so small, you just might want to get started on your own music playlist.

The documentary is about a quest to give people back their music, most especially those living with dementia in U.S. care homes.

The film opens with a scene of a near-comatose, non-verbal old man being outfitted with a headset and iPod loaded with all his favourite music, and his instant transformation into a wide-eyed, smiling guy singing along and recalling a dozen stories from his youth. (Maybe you were one of the 2 million people who viewed the clip on YouTube?)

Anyway, it’s an amazing scene, but there are many more equally powerful ones in the full documentary. I felt like evangelizing after I saw the film. I wanted to start calling up care homes in Canada to ask if anyone was doing something similar, and how I could help. Anyone who ran into me in the days that followed had to put up with me exhorting them to see the film.

And then I got thinking about what songs some good-hearted person might put on my own personal playlist should the day come when I can no longer remember who I am. That kind of freaked me out.

It’s an interesting thought experiment. What songs would dig deep enough into your brain to remind you of who you are? Read the whole article here.


Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38319 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

2 thoughts on “What’s On Your Dementia Playlist? (Stay with Me on This One…)

  • Thanx Alan. That was really something. amazing:) I always knew music is good:):)

  • Music is magical! The more personalized the playlist the better. You might be interested in LifeSongs recordable books. They have 12 pages for photos, etc. and 12 buttons to record a person’s favorite songs. The music helps spark memories. You can order one at for only $29.99


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