Music is powerful, no matter your age; most people have experienced the sensation of hearing a familiar tune and being transported back in time to when they first heard the song. Past studies have shown that music can have a similar effect on elderly individuals afflicted with dementia or Alzheimer’s, but the reasons behind this effect have been less clear.
However, a recent study found that dementia patients who participated with particular songs experienced greater benefit than those who just listened to music. Through this use of music therapy, even those patients in the latter stages of Alzheimer’s could recall emotions and memories and experience clearer mental performance after singing along with familiar music. Researchers believe that musical activity can help the memory and cognitive function of dementia and Alzheimer’s patients for several key reasons.
Music awakens emotions, which in turn kindles memories.
Music retains its ability to conjure an emotional connection, even for those patients who are in the most advanced stages of Alzheimer’s. In turn, emotion often has the power to kindle memories. As the neurologist Oliver Sacks noted, “Music evokes emotion, and emotion can…bring back the feeling of life when nothing else can.” Researchers have found that combining music with routine daily activities can help boost a dementia patient’s cognitive ability. The music appears to help these patients create a rhythm that allows them to recall memories of their daily activities.
The systematic memories of musical ability and understanding are some of the last to fade in dementia patients.
While conscious memories can fade quickly in dementia and Alzheimer’s patients, systematic memories and abilities are more resilient. As head researcher Linda Maguire found, musical ability and the appreciation for music are some of the most enduring abilities in Alzheimer’s patients. In this way, music helps form a bridge to connect to dementia patients and help improve cognitive abilities.
Actively engaging in music stimulates many parts of the brain.
Researchers noted during their study that the participants used much more of their brains than just the areas directly related to singing. The actual activity of singing engaged the left side of patients’ brains, while hearing the music activated the right side and seeing the rest of the class performing cued up the visual portions of the brain. This overall stimulation of participants’ brains meant that these dementia patients were being encouraged to use more of their mind than normal, laying a pathway for improved memory.
While the exact way that music helps boost memory in dementia patients may not be completely clear, caregivers should feel encouraged by these findings. Using music to help your own loved one improve their memory is as easy as putting on their favorite tunes and encouraging them to sing along.
At the Cypress of Charlotte, we offer a vibrant senior living community for active and independent retirees with resources for assisted living, skilled nursing and dementia care as any need arises. Contact us today to learn more about our senior living programs in Charlotte or to schedule a visit.