Sabrina McCurbin, iPod project coordinator, says the project has already made a positive difference in the lives of Toronto Alzheimer's patients.

iPod project aims to improve lives of Alzheimer’s patients

In project's first year, the music seems to have made a difference

One year into the project, the music is already making a difference to some people with Alzheimer’s in Toronto. Over the next two years, Alzheimer Society Toronto intends to bring the music to plenty more.

The iPod project was launched by the society in January 2014 with a goal of distributing 10,000 iPods and music players over three years to patients with Alzheimer’s.

LISTEN: Observer reporter Nicholas Misketi speaks with Sabrina McCurbin about how the iPod project improves the quality of life of Alzheimer’s patients in Toronto.

Listening to music through these iPods not only improves the quality of life for Alzheimer’s patients, but also reduces the stress on their caregivers, according to project coordinator Sabrina McCurbin.

“There’s definitely a bigger need out there for this project,” she says.

After one year, nearly 1,000 Alzheimer’s patients received an iPod through the program. The goal of 10,000 iPods represents about one-quarter of Alzheimer’s patients living in Toronto.

Many Alzheimer’s patients who have received an iPod through the program have stayed in touch with McCurbin through their family members and caregivers. They tell her how the music has helped both patients and caregivers, she says.

Angela Bianchi, who provides care for her 94-year-old aunt, Domenica, says the music takes her aunt back to a particular time in her life. Her aunt will sometimes sing along with the music and certain songs  help her recall memories of her life back in Italy.

“All of a sudden, you see this woman who is usually seated in her wheelchair with her eyes shut, come alive,” Bianchi says.

The music also makes her aunt less agitated, more responsive, and more approachable. As a result, Bianchi has insisted staff at the nursing home refrain from using sedative medication to calm her down.

“If we can use the music to quiet her down, we don’t need to use these detrimental anti-psychotic medications,” Bianchi said.

McCurbin often talks about the first person to receive an iPod through the project. Before she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, the patient could play music on the keyboard by ear but was unable to do so once she grew old. Then, after listening to music through the iPod, she suddenly started playing the keyboard again — by ear — with the same precision as before her diagnosis.

McCurbin says the patient, who she wanted to remain unnamed, even picked up new songs.

“On a day-to-day basis, it just made life better for everyone around,” McCurbin says.

For more information, visit www.alzheimertoronto.org or call 416-640-6305.