SingFit: Music As Medicine To Treat Alzheimer’s [INTERVIEW]
In another segment of his series regarding the healing benefits of music, George Howard speaks with Andy Tubman, one of the founders of Musical Health Technologies about SingFit, a service which builds products designed to help people with Alzheimer's and ADHD use the creative power of music to their advantage.
Guest post by George Howard.
As part of an ongoing series of articles I’m calling Music Heals, I’m profiling entrepreneurs who are utilizing music to directly enhance the lives of those who are ailing.
These days, music is too often discussed only in the context of financial and business conversations. While I certainly contribute to these conversations (and find them important), what is more important is music’s ability to both transcend and provide transcendence.
Music as therapy is not a new concept, but, from my vantage point, it does not receive the attention it deserves given its potency. Further, while there has been tremendous attention from the investment/entrepreneurial community with respect to health care, generally, I do not believe that enough focus has been placed on startups and entrepreneurs in the music/arts therapy domain.
I hope these columns raise the level of attention, discourse, and investment in the companies and individuals operating in this space.
To this end, I spoke recently with Andy Tubman, Co-Founder of Musical Health Technologies. I met Andy at the recent MaiTai Global Conference where I was honored to moderate the panels.
What I love most about what SingFit is doing is that they are working with firms to utilize music for a purpose that is far different than how Pandora, Spotify, and others are utilizing music.
While the streaming services are clearly leveraging the creations of the musicians to gain subscribers for their services (a gambit that I’ve cautioned could have a similar result to what occurred with Reddit over the summer), SingFit is building products that help those with Alzheimer’s and ADHD, and utilizing the creation of musicians to to heal.
This is a fantastic example of music being purposed for something beyond the typical usages that are not proving terribly effective for the musicians.
I urge you not only to read the interview (lightly edited for grammar and continuity), but also to watch the videos (one immediately below, and the second below the fold) that truly adheres to the axiom of showing rather than telling:
George Howard: Tell me what led you to this place. Give me a little background?
Andy Tubman: I’ve been a board certified music therapist for 15 years working in clinical settings including traumatic brain injury rehab and geriatric psych. My private practice has focused on people struggling with neurological disorders.
Improving people’s health in tangible ways through the application and use of music is what music therapists have been doing since World War I, but there are only six thousands of us.
Although the medical science clearly supports the use of music as a healthcare tool, it’s frustrating that it is not used more widely. We started SingFit in order to combine technology with evidenced-based therapies to enable, for the first time, the mass distribution of music as medicine on a scale similar to pharmaceutical interventions.
GH: So, why SingFit? What specific problem are you solving, and what is/are your competitive advantage(s)?
AT: Our goal is that 10 years from now, when a child gets diagnosed with ADHD, prescribing a SingFit singing intervention in order to improve focus is as common or more common than the prescribing of pharmaceuticals.
GH: What a fantastic goal! Why are more people not embracing this approach?
AT: Because of the limited number of music therapists (just 6000 in the U.S), access, funding and expertise to music as medicine has traditionally been very limited. Yet, music therapy and in our case, digital singing interventions, can enable clinical outcomes that can not be achieved by other means.
Since 2003, 99.96% of dementia drugs that have sought FDA approvals failed to reach market. Yet for decades music therapists have been able to positively influence the health and quality of life of dementia patients with musical interventions. We leverage their approach and apply technology in order to create brand new solutions that improve health and wellness of millions of people.
GH: One of your applications is focused on our aging population. Can you elaborate on this a bit?
AT: Sure. 10,000 people have been turning 65 everyday in the US alone since 2010 and will continue to overwhelm an already overwhelmed healthcare system.
At SingFit, our first focus has been on training, educating and scaling into senior healthcare.
With our technology and music therapist designed programming that includes trivia, movement and visual cues, our thousands of seniors are deeply engaging in a musical, whole-brain exercise daily. This regular musical cognitive stimulation results in consistent elevated mood and increased socialization.
GH: Great, but why music? Why is it better suited for this than other – non-musical – approaches?
AT: Music as an intervention, always has a competitive advantage in that we are not asking people to make a giant behavioral change or do something onerous to improve their health; we’re asking them to do what they already love to do: interact with their favorite music.
Most people already listen to an average of four hours of music a day. Depending on their condition, we may recommend a half hour of that time a few days week to sing instead of listen and the results can be staggeringly effective in improving one’s physical, neurological and emotional health.
GH: Great. How has the response to SingFit been; both in terms of treatment?
AT: From an end user perspective, we get the best kind of feedback you can imagine as people’s lives are transformed through the prescribed, structured use of singing.
In a study with a major long term care provider we found 40% elevation in mood for residents who take part in SingFit sessions from pre to post intervention, and this includes residents with typically functioning brains to those with quite advanced dementia.
We’ve also received data that participants who engage in SingFit require less anti-anxiety medications, wander less (a serious challenge with some residents who have Alzheimer’s) and, at times, begin speaking, socializing or playing abandoned instruments again.
Families are often astounded at the changes. The staff at these communities are big SingFit champions because the programs allow them to provide an elevated level of care for the residents with no additional prep time.
GH: What about adoption from hospitals, etc,?
AT: From an industry perspective, even though there are many applications for SingFit products, we entered first into the long term care market with SingFit PRIME and SingFit STUDIO partly because of the great demand for new products that’s being generated by the aging of the baby boomers as well as for other strategic and personal reasons around the lack of solutions for people living alzheimer’s disease.
Senior living is self admittedly not an early adopter digitally speaking, yet we found a great core of first customers who are actively seeking out solutions like SingFit including Aegis Senior Living, Front Porch Senior Living, Eskaton Senior Living and Five Star Senior Living.
We have been using SingFit PRIME for almost two years now both with our memory care and assisted living residents. Both groups get immense benefits from the program. For our residents with dementia we see a decrease in agitation, an elevation of mood and an increase in socialization when they participate in SingFit. To be able to manage mood without drugs means a lot to the families and since social isolation is a predictor of rapid decline, keeping residents engaged and active is a top priority for Aegis Living. — Chris Corrigall, Vice President, Life Enrichment, Aegis Senior Living
GH: How is your business traction/growth/etc.?
AT: We are finding great success in senior living, and are continuing to work with larger and larger providers. This has gotten us a lot of attention from big technology companies who are entering the digital health space. These major hardware manufacturers along with content aggregators are looking for truly engaging products to bundle into their digital health solutions.
GH: Oh, that’s fantastic. I love this. This is what I mean…Music having a purpose to these brands beyond what – like Pandora or Spotify, or whomever – are doing by just leveraging creators’ music to build subscribers. I’d way rather see companies utilizing music to increase the value of their health care products, and I bet musician’s would feel better about this too.
AT: Exactly. They know better than anyone that the average person spends four hours day interacting with music so a health solution that uses music makes sense to them. Our new SingFit STUDIO product, which is a brain fitness program for people 55+ is the lead content solution for the new senior care mobility solution from CDW (the largest technology distributor in the U.S. and Canada), which is distributed via Apple and Samsung tablets. We have both a b2b and a b2c strategy to growth that will allow us to be used both as a preventative self help tool and a professionally administered healthcare intervention.
GH: So, that’s how you scale the business, right? What is the efficacy of these when compared to a more hands-on approach?
AT: We approach scaling in two ways: first, by dramatically increasing the number of healthcare professionals who can expertly administer music as medicine to solve specific healthcare problems. SingFit enterprise products, which include training — arm millions of healthcare professionals who have no previous musical experience with the ability to facilitate one specific singing protocol and get clinical level outcomes.
When the app ecosystem really got rolling about four years back, we decided it was time to join forces and create a truly scalable approach to utilizing music as medicine by fueling the distribution of evidence based protocols with technology.
The second the way we scale is by enabling hundreds of millions of people with typical health to directly access singing to self administer a singing-based wellness interventions.
In no way do we claim to be able to bring the wealth of interventions that a certified music therapist brings to the table when they work 1:1 with a client, but even working double time, the small number of music therapists would only be able to see about 2% of the U.S. population.
We have been successful at taking small slices of what music therapists do and productizing them for very specific situations through the creative application of technology and effective product design. We do this in order to change the magnitude of people who can receive quality musical care for a huge swath of conditions from hypertension to depression.
GH: Why is this work meaningful to you?
AT: There is no silver bullet pill that exists for some of the most devastating healthcare conditions. Our ability to democratize the use of singing and musical protocols through technology to help hundreds of millions people is incredibly exciting.
Along with a growing number of researchers, practitioners and technologists in the field of music as medicine, we are getting to introduce a whole new way of achieving better health that does not rely on pharmaceuticals or invasive interventions into the mainstream.
GH: What else can you tell me that you would like people to know about your specific contribution to using music as a therapy, and music therapy, generally?
AT: The science around music as a medical intervention is very clear and very positive. At Harvard Medical School, Dr. Gottfried Schlaug used real time video of the brain to prove that singing and rhythmic protocols actually rewires damaged portions of the brain. What else can do that?
It’s only in the last twenty years that advanced brain imaging and other diagnostic technologies have revealed why music is medicine.
President Obama’s 100-million dollar brain mapping project is only going to accelerate more practical applications and a whole new mainstream industry, like health food and yoga, around music as medicine.
GH: Andy, you’re doing amazing work. Thank you!
George Howard is an entrepreneur, educator, advisor, and angel investor. He was the President of Rykodisc, one of the original founders of TuneCore, and manager of Carly Simon. He recently co-founded Music Audience Exchange, is an Associate Professor atBerklee College of Music , and advises numerous creative companies. He is most easily found on Twitter.