Have you ever wondered why playing an old song gets mom’s or dad’s eyes to light up or gets them reminiscing about a certain moment in time they associate the melody with?
Music has that kind of power. It can instantly transport us back to a place and time in our lives, often one we thought we’d forgotten. This is also true for individuals with dementia. Because, while short term memory and other cognitive skills are impacted, often some long-term memory remains. And music has a way of tapping into it.
Is music a form of “medicine”?
The National Institute on Aging has written about what they refer to as “musical medicine”. According to Psyche Loui, head of Northeastern University’s Imaging and Neural Dynamics Lab, our brains are basically hard wired to recognize familiar tunes and rhythms.
Areas of the brain that are involved in this process include the auditory cortex, which processes sounds and the medial prefrontal cortex, which processes memories about ourselves.
Together they work to help an individual with dementia to recognize and respond to a familiar tune.
But there’s more to the power of music than sparking memories.
The NIA also cites the research of Julene Johnson, professor of cognitive neuroscience at the University of California at San Francisco. Her study of 390 participants found that active interaction with music, such as singing reduced feelings of loneliness and promoted an increased interest in life as well as higher self-esteem.
And there are studies in the works to determine if music can help individuals with dementia get a better night’s sleep and reduce anxiety and aggression.
While we still have much to learn about the power of music, we do know from our own observations that music has a way of soothing, energizing, and connecting us to deep memories and to those around us.
That is why our Anthem Memory Care communities regularly schedule music sessions and activities and bring musicians in to engage our residents. It may be an oldies band, a string quartet or a classical pianist, but the impact is the same. Residents smile more, laugh more and, most importantly, interact with those around them as they share old memories.
If you are caring for a loved one with dementia, you can see the power of music yourself.
Put on an old dance tune or ballad and watch how their face lights up. Try different tunes and ask them who their favorite musician was back in the day. Sit back and enjoy the music and the transformation it brings with it. Not just for your loved one, but for both of you!
(Our header photo shows residents of Grace Point Place in Oak Lawn, Illinois, getting down to the tunes played by the Frank Rossi Band, one of their favorite groups!)