Early this year the activities department at Ovation Jewish Home started using a new app to engage residents through personalized music. SOLO, developed by a technology startup company in Israel, uses facial recognition to match a user’s playlist to their mood.

Research suggests that music provides emotional and behavioral benefits for older adults, especially those with dementia and cognitive issues. Songs and melodies can evoke serenity, energy and movement, as well as nostalgia, memory and a renewed experience of past emotions.

The Ovation activities team helps residents set up tailored SOLO profiles with tags for language, music genre and other preferences. When a resident uses the app, a facial scan recognizes seven emotions from 42 muscles, and plays music adapted to their current emotional state. For instance, calming music might be used to relieve anxiety and upbeat songs to ease sadness.

“Music allows people to become more engaged in their reality,” said Kevin Farinelli, Music Therapist at Ovation Jewish Home. “It’s really wonderful to see someone’s face light up when they’re listening to the languages, sounds, and songs they love.”

During the pandemic, the new technology has also allowed caregivers to engage residents one-on-one simultaneously at a time when many larger group activities are on hold. It allows the listener to feel part of a broader group and community, through the commonality of song.

While long-term care providers and hospitals in other countries including Israel, Russia, and Japan are already using SOLO, Ovation Communities is the first senior living provider in the U.S. to pilot the program. The app subscription is funded by a grant from the Jewish Home and Care Center Foundation.