The Value of iPods in Nursing Homes
IndustryView | 2014

When a favorite song gets stuck in your head, it could stay there for a lot longer than you may realize. Neurologists say music engages your brain in several key areas that don’t require much cognitive or mental processing, creating a deep-rooted and effortless relationship between music and your mind. That relationship is even stronger when the listener has a personal connection to the song.

Researchers are now applying this knowledge to nursing home care by measuring the mental and physical benefits of simply having residents listen to their favorite songs. This is often done using playlists, customized for each resident, made on iPods or other digital music devices. This technology is being recognized as an innovative tool for sparking memory and engagement among seniors, especially those suffering from dementia.

Software Advice wanted to further explore the value of using iPods in long-term care settings. We collected responses to an online survey from a total of 1,557 people who were trying to choose, or anticipated needing to choose, a nursing home for themselves and/or a loved one.

We also shared our data with experts in the long-term care industry. Some of their insights are based on experience with Music & Memory, a nonprofit that trains elder care professionals on how to integrate digital music technology in nursing homes, such as the one in this Milwaukee Journal Sentinel video:

Key Findings:

  1. Most respondents (83 percent) would favor a nursing home that offered residents iPods with individualized playlists versus a similar nursing home that did not.
  3. Half of respondents would consider moving outside their city to find a nursing home that offered residents iPods, with 8 percent willing to move out of state.
  5. More than half of respondents would spend more money on a nursing home that offered residents personalized iPods.

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Majority Would Favor Nursing Homes With iPod Integration

We asked respondents if they would be likely to favor a nursing home offering individualized music playlists to spark memory and engagement over a similar nursing home that did not—and 83 percent said that they would.

The majority (29 percent) were “extremely likely” to favor an iPod-integrated nursing home; nearly one-quarter (24 percent) were “very likely” to favor this; 16 percent were “moderately likely” and 14 percent were “minimally likely” to do so. In contrast, 17 percent of respondents were “not at all” likely to choose such a nursing home.

Likelihood to Favor Nursing Home Using iPods

Likelihood to Favor Nursing Home Using iPods

Our findings show that digital music integration has the power to influence nursing home selection. And the fact that the overwhelming majority of our respondents feel this way is indicative of a larger trend in the long-term care industry. Dr. Jung Kwak, lead researcher in a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) study featuring “Music & Memory”-certified facilities, predicts it will be increasingly common for nursing homes to implement such initiatives focused on the resident experience.

“[Our society is] going through a transition in our philosophy [when it comes to] quality of care,” she says. “I think nursing homes are moving away from the ‘medical’ model, where people only get basic care. They are trying to become more ‘person-centered,’ where mental engagement is hugely important.”

Dr. Kwak’s research team is collecting data to measure potential health and wellness improvements in nursing home patients that have regular access to iPods with their favorite songs. She says it’s too early to share UWM’s preliminary findings, but points to anecdotal evidence suggesting the iPod program promotes a positive environment.

“[The songs] are based on residents’ personal history; something they enjoy that can be beneficial to their quality of life,” she says.

And quality of life should be one of the most important factors in choosing a nursing home, according to Brian Lee, executive director of the Families for Better Care advocacy group. Lee is a former state ombudsman for long-term care facilities, and recalls that many of the residents he spoke with were unhappy with their experience. He, too, is optimistic about the possibility of iPod integration improving life for residents.

Most Would Move or Commute for Nursing Home Using iPods

Half (a combined 50 percent) of our survey’s respondents would be willing to move or commute from their home city to find a nursing home that incorporated iPods in resident care. More than one-quarter (27 percent) would search for one within their county; 15 percent would look within their state and 8 percent would expand their search out of state.

Willingness to Move/Commute for Nursing Home Using iPods

Willingness to Move/Commute for Nursing Home Using iPods

It is important to keep in mind that Medicaid-dependent residents may not be able to afford an out-of-state nursing home relocation. However, Dan Cohen, executive director of Music & Memory, hopes this technology will someday be adopted so widely that no travel would be necessary at all.

Cohen says that when he first started the program, budget-conscious facilities were hesitant to invest in a program that was not automatically reimbursed by the government—but now, nursing homes in Wisconsin, Ohio and Utah have applied for and received Centers for Medicare & Medicaid (CMS) funding for music-playlist programs. That kind of government support, coupled with consumer demand, could prompt skeptical long-term care providers to reconsider these programs’ potential return on investment, he explains.

“This is a very inexpensive way to take advantage of technology that pays off for everybody,” says Cohen. “It pays off for the residents, and as we can see [from Software Advice’s data], it pays off for the nursing homes in terms of attracting people.”

Over Half Would Pay More for Facilities With iPod Integration

The next data point further illustrates Cohen’s point of view. More than half of respondents said they would pay more money for a nursing home that offered residents iPod use versus one that didn’t, with 19 percent willing to spend “significantly more.” Thirteen percent would pay “moderately more,” and one-quarter (25 percent) would pay “minimally more.” Forty-three percent of nursing home seekers would not pay more for a nursing home that used iPods.

Willingness to Pay More for Nursing Home Using iPods

Willingness to Pay More for Nursing Home Using iPods

Based on this finding, it is possible for nursing homes that offer iPods to residents to see a direct return on their investment. In an industry that has been notoriously slow to adopt health information technology, Brian Lee hopes these findings will inspire long-term care providers to consider even more digital solutions.

“It’s amazing that you still find some nursing homes operating from paper records, working like they’re in the 1980s,” he says.

Nursing homes interested in modernizing could consider adopting an integrated long-term care software system. Just as our survey results show iPod integration is likely to attract higher-paying residents, Lee says additional technology implementation could be a compelling marketing strategy for the next generation of nursing-home residents, who are themselves avid technology users.

“The investment in the long term is extremely beneficial, and it becomes something [nursing homes] can go out and market to prospective residents or their families,” says Lee. “They’ll have a waiting list of people wanting to live there.”

Most Potential Nursing-Home Seekers Value Mental Engagement

The majority of potential nursing-home seekers we surveyed (84 percent) said it was important for nursing homes to foster mental agility among senior residents, in addition to their physical well-being. Thirty-five percent said this was “extremely important;” 34 percent classified it as “very important;” 11 percent said it was “moderately important” to foster mental agility and 6 percent said this was “minimally important.” Just 14 percent of respondents did not think it was important at all.

Importance of Fostering Mental Agility in Nursing Homes

Importance of Fostering Mental Agility in Nursing Homes

Our results show most respondents want care teams to make an effort in maintaining the health of residents’ minds as well as their bodies. To this end, best practices for nursing homes usually include opportunities for engagement in meaningful activities—such as inviting a guest lecturer to speak at the facility or providing assistance using the Web to email loved ones.

However, it can be difficult to come up with activities that are suitable for all members of a group with diverse cognitive challenges. Caring for a person’s mind can therefore require a more nuanced, individualized approach than caring for their body—which the playlist approach provides.

One of the most significant benefits Cohen has observed in facilities that have implemented his iPod program is a boost in community engagement, regarding both staff and resident interactions. Staff dedicate one-on-one time with residents to find out what their favorite songs are so they can load individualized playlists onto the iPods, and residents can communicate with each other about their favorite songs.

“What we found is people were a lot more social,” says Cohen. “[Residents] say, ‘Oh, you gotta hear this music!’ Or, ‘This reminds me of when I met my husband.’ Or, ‘You’re about my age—do you remember the Andrews Sisters?’ Music facilitates interaction and relationships.”

Most Respondents Seeking Nursing Home for Loved One

We screened our sample so that it consisted of people currently trying to choose a nursing home for themselves and/or a loved one, as well as people who thought they would someday need to choose one. The majority (42 percent) said they were looking to place a loved one, or anticipated doing so; 32 percent were looking to place themselves and 26 percent were seeking (or anticipated seeking) a nursing home for themselves as well as for a loved one.

Demographics: Respondents Seeking Nursing Home

Demographics: Respondents Seeking Nursing Home

As 10,000 baby boomers retire in the U.S. every day, the long-term care industry is preparing for an influx of residents over the next few years. We may therefore see a future rise in the percentage of those seeking care for themselves. No matter who will be moving into the facility, though, there are a number of online guides nursing-home seekers can consult to narrow down their options.

Most Respondents From Midwest

Our respondents were all from the U.S. The region most potential nursing-home seekers hailed from was the Midwest (33 percent), followed by the South (26 percent), the West (23 percent) and the Northeast (15 percent). Three percent of our respondents came from unspecified U.S. regions.

Demographics: Nursing Home Seekers, by Region

Demographics: Nursing Home Seekers, by Region

Note: 3 percent of respondents did not specify a region

It follows that the Midwest and South regions would benefit most in staying abreast of developments within the long-term care industry. Different states face different challenges in improving nursing home quality—some ranking on the low end of data-based quality assessments.


Based on our results, people appear to embrace the idea of integrating iPod use in nursing home care. They’re largely willing to travel farther for the privilege, and, in many cases, to pay more for it. As the long-term care industry prepares for future generations of residents, tech-savvy facilities that focus on the resident experience are most likely to attract new business while improving care.


To find the data in this report, we conducted a three-day online survey and gathered 1,557 responses from people within the United States. We worded the questions to ensure that each respondent fully understood their meaning and the topic at hand. Interview sources were chosen by searching the Internet for authorities on the topic.

If you have comments or would like to obtain access to any of the charts above, contact

Gaby Loria

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