Music Therapy App Stirs Memories For Dementia Sufferers


In my mother’s final years, as she was dealing with dementia, I played her many songs sung by Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland and even Shirley Temple. Sometimes she would smile with recognition.

That was a while ago, after I had seen a 2014 movie, "Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory” about music’s ability “to combat memory loss and restore a deep sense of self to those suffering from it,” according to the film’s IMDB entry.

It made perfect sense to me -- after all, listening to music I’d loved when I was younger (not Sinatra but Springsteen) could always make me feel better and restore my “sense of self.”

Studies affirmed that idea, including a recent one published in the journal Alzheimer Disease and Associated Disorders that found  using music therapy helped improve social engagement among people with dementia and their caregivers.

If Music Health’s five-month-old Vera app had been around, I’m sure I would have gotten Mom a subscription to that, as well. Vera helps dementia sufferers by stirring their memories through personalized music from Universal Music Group’s (UMG’s) library.

Vera has now become only the second dementia resource available through Walgreens’ four-year-old Find Care digital marketplace. (The other is Brain Health, which offers a memory screening and questionnaire).

That’s not bad for a company that’s still in pre-seed startup mode, with a user base of just 1,000, half in the U.S., as the Walgreens deal gets underway,

The service is sold on a subscription basis for $89.99 annually (or $7.50 a month), with Walgreen customers getting a $5 discount.

For that, consumers get three music stations are individualized based on caregivers input info about the person’s cultural background (such as where they grew up, their age and first language), which is combined with details about their music taste, such as a few favorite artists and genres.

By triggering long-lost memories, the app is said to temporarily improve cognitive function, motor function, mood and sleep, while reducing agitation, aggression and other negative symptoms of dementia.

Stephen Hunt, Music Health’s Australian-based co-founder, tells Pharma & Health Insider that the new Walgreens relationship grew out of talks the company had with sister retailer Boots in the UK.

“They loved what we were doing with Vera but were restructuring the division that we needed to partner with, so suggested that we start with Walgreens, as that would make it easier to do a deal with Boots once complete,” Hunt says.  "They made a warm introduction to the team at Walgreens.”

Now that the Walgreens relationship is set, Hunt says “discussions are well progressed on multiple fronts” for additional strategic partnerships that will be announced in 2023.

Music Health’s marketing budget is minimal, as the company is still “pouring our resources into product development,” Hunt says. “So we have to be creative.”

With a key brand challenge being how to convince people that “music can be more than entertainment and actually deliver incredible wellness outcomes,” Hunt says the company created a “movement” called #shareasong” that was “designed to rally the music industry behind the dementia cause” and “spread virally around the world across social platforms.” Popular musicians and singers like Australia’s Jimmy Barnes and Australia’s Missy Higgins, he says, have beome involved by sharing their personal experiences.

#shareasong is also in full force this holiday season, Hunt notes, with Walgreens and others encouraging families to connect with their loved ones by sharing a song “and experiencing the magic of music for themselves.”

Music Health’s exclusive deal with UMG, announced earlier this year, has helped solve any content barriers that might have hindered Vera’s launch.

While Vera has access to the entire UMG global catalog, Hunt says just (!) 2.2 million songs are currently available to its users, since it’s avoiding “songs that might cause agitation or that include explicit content” as well as “most modern repertoire while we concentrate on finding songs from when our listener was 15 to 35 years of age.” However, he says, “As we build out more products and evolve Vera, I expect we will start to make better use of the more recent catalog.”

UMG’s previous ventures into the space include partnerships with the Calm meditation app and the MedRythyms digital therapeutics platform.

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