Neuroscience based set Sound Design & Music for Modern Memory Care

As the population continues to age, and as we all try to imagine what our lives will be like – mind, body and spirit – as we enter the autumn and winter of our lives – tremendous progress is being made in understanding Alzheimer’s and many forms of dementia.

SUZANNE FALLA Memory Care 3-4

Even as we become more forgetful or experience cognitive declines beyond forgetfulness, we still retain our ability to feel joy and happiness, and enlightened communities serving older adults are increasingly implementing “Memory Care” programs that include music, paintings, sculpture, garden design, film, dance and more.

Recent research studies are now proving the impact of these programs. For example, an April 2018 study reports that “objective evidence from brain imaging shows personally meaningful music is an alternative route for communicating with patients who have Alzheimer’s disease.” The research, published by a team at University of Utah Health in Salt Lake City in The Journal of Prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease, provided evidence that familiar music “may facilitate attention, reward and motivation, which in turn makes it more possible to manage emotional distress in Alzheimer’s.”

Another 2018 study, published in conjunction with Dr. Stephen Post of Stony Brook University in Dementia: The International Journal of Social Research and Practice presented data indicating “personal music intervention improves swallowing in individuals with advanced dementia, making eating easier and potentially diminishing reliance on feeding tubes and PEG intervention.”

And last year, Brown University published an article in The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, comparing behavioral and psychological resident outcomes before and after a Music & Memory program. Ninety-eight nursing homes were studied along with 98 matched-pair comparisons and proved that discontinuation of antipsychotic medications increased in Music & Memory facilities (23.5% to 24.4%), while decreasing among comparison facilities (24.8% to 20.0%).

Facilities using Music & Memory also demonstrated increased rates of reduction in behavioral problems (50.9% to 56.5%) versus comparison facilities (55.8% to 55.9%). Implication for practice concluded that “effective, non-medicalized, low-cost interventions such as Music & Memory, are critical to address the needs of the growing ADRD population.”

With scientific evidence in, and our intuitive understanding that music from one’s culture or past can trigger positive responses in those challenged by cognitive decline, we are now seeing technologies evolve, including the use of artificial intelligence, that can personalize programs for individuals, based on their backgrounds their preferences, and their ongoing response to specific stimulation.

A very specific song can help people living with dementia access memories, emotions and connections that their families and caregivers may assume they are no longer able to grasp.


I was fortunate to visit one amazing facility in the NYC metro area where I live, United Hebrew in Westchester County, thanks to a colleague who has been working on memory care innovations with their team.

They, like other enlightened providers, integrate music into many programs, and integrate visual art as well, including an art gallery on their campus.

Music and visual art in modern memory care can help soothe older adults, often opening new ways for them to communicate and express themselves, and lead to beautiful, calm moments between the staff and patients, and family members.

An old man in his 80s listening to his music on a new headset

The challenge, as the older population grows, is how to deliver personalized, highly effective experiences with music and the arts, which is where technology can come in. Imagine a system where content is curated for each patient, enjoyed by that patient, and improved over time as patterns are recognized.

This can assist in the patient experience by providing support to often limited caregiving staff and can also involve family members and friends who often feel helpless.

Imagine a day when those loved ones can help “program” experiences, including photographs, videos, special songs, poems and more to bring joy “on demand” in highly personal and effective ways.

We will continue to explore this exciting area, blending technology and the arts to create new awakenings unlike anything we could have imagined before.

Pain Free Living Isn’t Really Living

We are facing a crisis in America, and in other countries around the world, with the rise of Opioid and other pain medication addiction. While our personal and professional definitions of pain vary dramatically and often measured on a subjective scale of “1-10”, we are often focused on trying to eliminate pain, rather than manage it.

 Pain is a symphony – a complex response that includes not just a distinct sensation but also motor activity, a change in emotion, a focusing of attention, a brand-new memory.” DR. Atul Gawande

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Emotional distress, pain and discomfort is part of human experience and eliminating it or extreme avoidance makes us vulnerable to human exchange and effects not only our social and emotional intelligence but also our cognitive development. Pain to some extend builds resiliency.

Certain types of discomfort and pain, as a challenge to any organism (with the right context and dosage) can in fact lead to residency and strengthen the organism.

“Pain is a part of the human experience and has a function. Its re contextualization, re framing, and management for improving people’s lives seem crucial but this should not be confused with the pursuit of the elimination of pain as a part of human experience.  Neuroscience research findings suggest that experiencing pain and having empathy is neurologically connected. In fact, dulling pain may also reduce the level of empathy. Pain perception happens to engage some of the same neural pathways in the experience of empathy and it activates similar networks as when we ourselves are in pain.” DR.Kamran Fallahpour

Physical pain is a helpful indicator when something is wrong with our bodies. It’s healthy to feel pain at certain times, as this is one way our body communicates to our brain that we need to walk more gently if we feel a sprained ankle, need to change the way we are eating if we experience heartburn, need to drink more water if we are feeling faint, and so on.

When we learn to listen to our bodies, and lie down when we have a headache, rather than reaching for a pharmaceutical, we are treating ourselves naturally, without overly relying on over-the counter meds.

In more serious circumstances, when we are prescribed pain medication after a surgical procedure, we certainly can heal faster by being able to rest and recover, or to take part in physical therapy needed to reduce the chances of scar tissue building up or other outcomes. That said, when we listen to our bodies, even after having surgery and completing physical therapy, we can wean ourselves off pain medication as we feel stronger and more able to live normally – without becoming addicted to the idea that we can live pain free.

We can even apply the idea of learning to “live with pain” when we have chronic conditions.

According to a 2011 report by the Institute of Medicine, Relieving Pain in America, there were 100 million Americans dealing with chronic pain in 2010 alone and this number is growing as the population ages. The costs associated with chronic pain, usually defined as pain lasting longer than three months and without a clear prognosis, can be astronomical and not just due to the high price of pharmaceuticals.

One estimate by health economists at John Hopkins University puts the annual economic costs linked to chronic pain at $635 billion annually, far greater than for cancer, heart disease, or diabetes.

This includes direct costs such as health care and indirect costs resulting from lost work days or productivity, and this loss of income due to “over-medicating” can cause major crises for individuals and families

There are many alternative and highly effective ways for people to deal with pain, even chronic pain, learning to manage and understand the signals of pain as part of living a full life and strengthening themselves physically and emotionally.

Natural ways to manage pain include:

  1. Plenty of exercise and “fresh air” – even a short walk outside can bring more oxygen and a new point of view into the life of someone experiencing pain
  2. Yoga and other exercises which can be guided by professionals who understand how to set up appropriate stretching and light movement programs
  3. Nutritious eating, with fresh local ingredients, balanced meals, protein for rebuilding muscles, and more
  4. Hydrating: water, water and more water can help keep our systems cleansed and running optimally
  5. Certain kinds of healthy teas, which bring comfort and relief, particularly herbal teas which can aid in breathing while also providing an enjoyable, fragrant pause to a stressful day
  6. Heat and cold therapy, which doctors and nurses can provide guidance for
  7. Simply soaking in a bath or taking a long shower
  8. Massage therapy, available in any city or town, with registered therapists who can address local and general pain
  9. Meditation of many different kinds, which can calm the mind and body for short or longer periods when pain seems to be increasing
  10. Sleep, sleep and more sleep: there is nothing like restorative sleep

Of course, there are simply some conditions where physical pain can become unbearable, and in these cases, physicians can prescribe appropriate medications as well as guidance on how to use those medications and how to avoid addiction.

One of the great benefits of learning how to manage pain in more healthy ways is become more in-tune not only with one’s body, but the world around them!

Who wants to go through life so medicated that they cannot actually experience life?

This is particularly important for our children and young adults, who are sometimes over-protected by parents having a hard time seeing their children experiencing discomfort.

Rather than reaching for medications, we encourage parents to understand the role of pain, how to manage it, tolerate it and how to communicate about it as signals of pain are important in early diagnosis of serious problems.

By teaching our children that discomfort, like joy, and sadness, like happiness, are all part of a rich life of being fully human, we are helping them build resilience which will serve them throughout their adult lives, and serve following generations, breaking the cycle of the “pain free” myth that is keeping us from aware and mosaic lives.

Building Emotional Immune Systems

Part of building up the physical immune system is the ability to live in the real world fully, being exposed to certain risks (like germs or viruses) and allowing the body to adapt to protect itself – but without having to live like the “boy in the bubble.”


There are millions of posts on how to fight disease and strengthen our physical immunes systems on the Internet. A Harvard Health Publishing article, updated in October 2017, reports that “On the whole, your immune system does a remarkable job of defending you against disease-causing microorganisms. But sometimes it fails: A germ invades successfully and makes you sick. Is it possible to intervene in this process and boost your immune system? What if you improve your diet? Take certain vitamins or herbal preparations? Make other lifestyle changes in the hope of producing a near-perfect immune response?”

How can this apply to our building the emotional immune systems of our children and young people?

In a world that can be stressful, with terrorist incidents, bullying, and the inevitability of sad events in all our lives, building up an ability to absorb and even embrace the sadness and confusion life brings with it is what we like to call a very positive emotional immunity.

Boosting our physical immunity is so attractive that it has created multi-billion dollar businesses for herbal supplements and more, and still immune system perfection has proved elusive.


Because both physical – and emotional – immune systems are systems – with many dependencies and a need to develop harmony given multiple factors.

“There is still much that researchers don’t know about the intricacies and interconnectedness of the immune response. For now, there are no scientifically proven direct links between lifestyle and enhanced immune function,” the Harvard Health Publishing article says, “But that doesn’t mean the effects of lifestyle on the immune system aren’t intriguing and shouldn’t be studied. Researchers are exploring the effects of diet, exercise, age, psychological stress, and other factors on the immune response, both in animals and in humans. In the meantime, general healthy-living strategies are a good way to start giving your immune system the upper hand.”

What are the healthy-living strategies parents and other grown ups who influence our children and young people can invoke to help build emotional strength?

Here are a few tips:

  1. Talk openly about feelings, including those we often wish to hide away: fear of disappointment, anger, resentment, frustration, rejection. Take respectability for those feelings.
  2. Avoid doing their chores (cleaning their rooms, getting them ready for school, reminding them of their medication, homework, school projects and so forth)
  3. Offer help only when you are asked to
  4. Avoid protecting them from the truth of life, even if it is difficult: for example, when an incident occurs in your town, for example an act of violence in a school, don’t be afraid to have a conversation about what this means.
  5. When your family is faced with a crisis – whether an illness, a death in the family, a financial crisis or other difficult situation, ask your child or teenager how they are experiencing the journey. Allow them to participate in the process. Be there for them when they need your time to work through what can often be painful, and at the same time moments of self-awareness and discovery.
  6. Practice a healthy lifestyle – eat well, exercise, go outside and move together as a family and as friends, get enough sleep, and otherwise enjoy the good things in life; the same activities that help strengthen our physical immune system also help children and young adults have the energy and focus to be able to process life’s more challenging events. Engage and empower them to experiment a healthy life style.
  7. Set the example – kids look up to their parents and close-in relatives and friends; when they witness thoughtful reactions to negative events, they are learning how to think and feel more deeply, to neither go into denial, nor respond with violent outbursts or other “wild swings” of behavior.
  8. Encourage them to develop a healthy “social network” or support system (family member, relatives, family friends, childhood friends)
  9. Teach them taste happiness by hard work and responsibility
  10. Celebrate their resilience after a fall.

Building emotional immunity is all about building internal strength, and this will serve children and young people throughout their lives.

The importance of emotional immunity, as is the case with physical immunity, becomes even more important as we age.

Appreciate the connection between emotions and physical health as there are important linkes between mind and body.

Many illnesses have been scientifically linked to emotional stress, including heat disease, one of the most prevalent causes of premature death. Scientists continue to study the relationship between stress and immune function.

To boost physical healing, we need to reduce the amount of stress, fear, and conflict and increase the amount of love and happiness in our lives. It helps to plan a purposeful day, performing altruistic acts, doing volunteer work, developing empathy and kindness towards others, especially the elderly. Love and happiness are instinctively felt when we give love and happiness to someone else.

And to boost emotional healing, we can learn to manage our stress and help our children manage their stress – not by pretending bad things don’t happen. They do. Rather, we manage stress by engaging in how we are feeling about our disappointments, our losses, and embracing “the perfectly imperfect” nature of life, from birth to death, in a world which is forever changing.

It’s No Wonder Our Kids Are Stressed Out

A Few Facts On Growing Up & The “New Normal”

I’ve never met a parent who has not been stretched for time as they work to make a living and raise their families as comfortably as possible. So often, in this increasingly fast-paced world, adults are so focused on ensuring they are making money, paying the bills, advancing in their careers so that they can provide for their children that they end up with no time to spend other than managing life’s logistics.

If you’re a parent who is struggling with your own stress, while now being faced with a child or children who are acting out due to their stress – you are not alone.

Here are a few stunning facts about the “new normal” for some kids growing up in today’s world:

Childhood stress by the numbers
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When Our Most Intelligent Children Suddenly Shift

When Our Most Intelligent Children Suddenly Shift: A Troubled and Tender Time for Boys and Girls Between 10 and 13

Over the many years I have been helping families with a history of high achievement and passion for learning, I have noticed an important pattern which I call the "Sudden Shift."
Over the many years I have been helping families with a history of high achievement and passion for learning, I have noticed an important pattern which I call the “Sudden Shift.”

While all children naturally change when they reach the threshold of puberty, usually around the ages of 10 to 13, some children, particularly those with very high IQs experience profound psychological changes brought on by a mix of physiological triggers including changes in hormones, as well as environmental evolution at home and in school.

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