App Finds Songs That Hit the Right Note With Dementia Patients

An older adult wearing headphones and happily listening to music.

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Key Takeaways

  • Walgreens is collaborating with Music Health to provide access to a smartphone app called Vera that causes AI to create personalized song selections for people with dementia.
  • Research has shown that music and reminiscence therapy may improve the psychological and emotional well-being of people with dementia.
  • Music also reduces behavioral challenges like agitation and depression in people living with dementia, which can ease stress for caregivers.

Research shows that music can be a powerful therapy for people living with dementia. Not only can hearing a favorite song from the past help with memory, but it can also lift a person’s spirits and help them stay motivated.

Music can also be included in reminiscence therapy, which uses personal items like old photos and special objects to help people with dementia conjure up memories. To make that process easier, Walgreens Find Care (the pharmacy chain’s digital health platform) is collaborating with a company called Music Health to provide families with an app to get personalized soundtracks for their loved ones with dementia.

Here’s what you should know about the app, including why you might want to consider trying it if you’re caring for a loved one with dementia.

Reminiscence Therapy and the Soundtrack of a Person's Life

Sam Fazio, PhD, senior director of quality care and psychosocial research with the Alzheimer’s Association, told Verywell that using music to help people with dementia has been shown to help reduce and manage dementia-related behaviors like agitation and refusal to eat.

According to Fazio, music is one of the non-pharmacological interventions that can help both people living with dementia and their caregivers.

Using music that is meaningful to a person can help with symptoms like apathy, repetitive questioning, sleep problems, and inappropriate behaviors that are common in people living with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

Reminiscence therapy (which can include music) is being used in many memory care and skilled nursing facilities. The therapy also involves helping a person with dementia create a life history or using photos and activities to prompt memories and conversations.

The Songs Have to Strike a Chord

Making music part of the therapy for a person with dementia requires some nuance—it can’t just be any music. The songs need to connect to a person’s past (think of it as a “soundtrack to their life”) and be part of a person-centered assessment.

“We want to make sure we find out what’s important to somebody,” said Fazio. “If music wasn’t or isn’t part of somebody’s life, we don’t want to make it part of somebody’s life.”

Plus, while some research on reminiscence therapy has shown some possible benefits, more studies are needed because the findings so far have been inconsistent.

Music to a Loved One's Ears

The app that Walgreens is supporting is called Vera. Nicc Johnson, a founder and the CEO of Music Health, clarified that the app does not make playlists. Instead, Vera uses artificial intelligence (AI) to create a virtual radio station with an assortment of songs or music that change over time.

According to Johnson, the Vera app is a wellness tool, not music therapy. Music therapy refers to health professionals using music to help address health goals.

The list of songs produced by Vera is based on information about the person living with dementia that a caregiver enters into the app. This onboarding process involves answering questions about the person, including their age, where they were born, where they lived when they were a teenager and young adult, and what genres of music they enjoyed listening to.

“We ask basic questions about music tastes,” said Johnson. “Based on that, we have enough information as a starting point to then find the right music for that person.”

The power of the playlist is not just that music from a person’s past triggering memories—it can also calm a person who is agitated or not communicating.

Changing Your Tune

The playlist will adapt and adjust over time based on information on how the person with dementia responds to it. Music Health has licensed the entire catalog of Universal Music Group, which gives the Vera app access to hundreds of thousands of recordings and songs from every genre.

A caregiver can regularly update the app about the person’s mood and behavior, which helps fine-tune the choice of music.

For example, did a song reduce agitation? Did another help a person who was not communicating start to connect with others? If a song triggers a negative response or the person does not like it, a quick click of a button makes sure that the song is never played again.

How to Get the Vera App

The basic Vera app costs $89.99 per year or $49.99 for a six-month membership with a free trial. It can be downloaded through Google Play and the App Store. If Vera is downloaded through Walgreens Find Care, there is a $5 discount.

Most families will get the benefits with the basic app, but there’s also a version called Vera Pro for facilities that care for people living with dementia.

Karen May, a spokesperson for Walgreens, said that by making Vera available through the Walgreens Find Care platform (on and the Walgreens app), the company is “able to provide people living with different forms of dementia convenient and affordable access to personalized music from their computers and smart devices.”

What This Means For You

If you’re a caregiver for a person living with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia, you may want to check out the Vera app. It uses information about your loved one and AI to put together a customized station of songs for them to listen to.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Moreno-Morales C, Calero R, Moreno-Morales P, Pintado C. Music therapy in the treatment of dementia: a systematic review and meta-analysisFront Med (Lausanne). 2020;7:160. doi:10.3389/fmed.2020.00160

  2. Scales K, Zimmerman S, Miller SJ. Evidence-based nonpharmacological practices to address behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia. Gerontologist. 2018;58(suppl_1):S88-S102. doi:10.1093/geront/gnx167

  3. Woods B, O'Philbin L, Farrell EM, Spector AE, Orrell M. Reminiscence therapy for dementia. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2018;3(3):CD001120. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD001120.pub3

By Valerie DeBenedette
Valerie DeBenedette has over 30 years' experience writing about health and medicine. She is the former managing editor of Drug Topics magazine.