New App Curates Music for Dementia Sufferers

May 6, 2016

The award-winning movie, Alive Inside, documented the remarkable effect that music can have on people with dementia.   The area of the brain that enjoys music is unaffected by dementia.  Playing music can awaken responses – smiles, conversations, story telling — in people that have otherwise been lost to the disease.

Recently, a Harvard neurologist and Alzheimer’s researcher (who is also a trained musician) launched a new app for dementia patients, Spark Memories Radio (

Screen Shot 2016-05-06 at 5.54.08 PMSpark is like Spotify or Pandora with a twist… it curates a playlist for you based on your date of birth.  It’s based on the premise that we love the music we heard between the ages of 12 to 25—starting around puberty to just a few years after college.    It’s the music we became emotionally attached to for the long haul.   So many life events play out during this timeframe: a first kiss, graduations, summer jobs, first loves or first heartaches.  During these years, we create memories that last a lifetime, and the soundtrack playing during these times becomes connected to those memories.

I (Lorenzo) tried Spark, entering my birthday from 1958.   It readily served up tons of songs from the 70s and early 80s.   I could easily save a song to my playlist, or skip to another.  It also gave me the opportunity to add genres, like Classical, Broadway, Country, etc.

Spark is nicely designed and has clean user interface.  It simplifies the time-consuming problem of how to assemble a meaningful music playlist for ​a loved one.

Still, there are life experiences (and music memories) that Spark’s algorithm does not account for.  In my case, I’d have a bunch of rap and hip-hop songs in my playlist.  They were introduced to me by my boys, and they remind me of times I spent with them.

Spark is nice but, if you have the time, I’d assemble a playlist manually.    Go to YouTube and find music from a given artist or time period (e.g., Songs of the 50s) .  When your loved one likes a song, make a note.  Then buy it on iTunes.  Yeah, it’s more work.  But if you’re doing this with your mom or dad, it’s time well spent.

In the long run, it’s also cheaper.    Spark is a subscription and charges $9.99 per month.  You could assemble a couple of nice play lists on iTunes with just six-month’s worth of Spark’s service.  Either way, make an effort to help your loved one enjoy that is special to them.  You won’t regret it.

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