Our brains are hard-wired to connect music with long-term memory. Even for persons with severe dementia, music can tap deep emotional recall. Favorite songs associated with important personal events can trigger not only the memory of lyrics, but also the emotional experience connected to the music.
Through listening to the music they love, a previously unresponsive or agitated person can feel calmer or more joyful. Personalized music has been shown to increase cooperation and attention, reduce agitation and “sundowning” and enhance engagement, fostering a calmer social environment. Personalized therapeutic music improves quality of life by enabling the listener to reconnect, regain social skills and live more fully.
The Science Behind It
“When I’ve worked with people with Alzheimers and various forms of dementia, some of them are confused, some are agitated, some lethargic, some have lost language. But all of them, without exception, respond to music.”
Oliver Sacks, MD, noted neurologist and best-selling author of Musicophilia
Research is confirming the way that music, especially familiar songs, seems to stimulate regions of memory and emotion that may otherwise be completely inaccessible to people with Alzheimers. Our brains are hard-wired to connect music with long-term memory. The parts of the brain that respond to music are very close to the parts of the brain associated with memory, emotion and mood.
Even for persons with severe dementia, music can tap deep emotional recall. Favorite songs associated with important personal events can trigger not only the memory of lyrics, but also the emotional experience connected to the music
With Alzheimers, it’s common to lose one’s memory for events and, in essence, to lose one’s biography. But research is showing that personal memories are embedded in music, especially in songs one knew, learned or sang.
“People who are out of it suddenly respond. First they may smile, then keep time, then join in. They regain that time of their lives and that identity they had, when they first heard the song…It’s an amazing thing to see,” says Dr. Sacks.
One doesn’t have to have to be especially musical to respond to music emotionally. Virtually everyone does respond, and they will continue to respond, despite severe dementia. People can regain a sense of their identity, at least for a while. The lucidity and pleasure can last for hours afterwards.
“With alzheimers, you lose your past, your story, your identity to a considerable extent….With familiar music, you can at least regain that for a little while,” Sacks notes.