Music is a powerful force in life, it is born from creativity and inspires, motivates and makes us feel. It may come as no surprise to you that listening to music energizes your brain, making it quite literally light up as new neural patterns are engaged as you listen to Africa by Toto. Because of its strong relationship with the brain, music and memory tend to be linked. Through years of research studies, it has been shown that music can help bring back memories and feelings for those with dementia. Music is nothing short of an everyday miracle, and we want to share how it serves those with dementia.
Music and Memory, founded by Dan Cohen in 2006, gives personalized iPods to residents with dementia or Alzheimer’s of any age. The personalized iPods include music from that individual’s past, such as their teenage years, that they will remember. Music training has been shown to improve cognitive functions, working memory, and lead to increased neuronal activation in the hippocampus. It is of significant therapeutic value in neurological disorders, specifically. Music can change the structure of the brain and contribute to brain plasticity throughout life (Vandervert, 2015). In earlier stages of dementia, music therapy may result in improved memory and a greater quality of life (McDermot et al., 2014). Music can engage several social functions, increase communication and social cohesion, promote empathetic relationships, and involve and influence motor areas functioning and regulation (Raglio et al., 2015).
Music incorporates the whole brain. Because of this, if one part of your brain that listens to music is not working, another part of the brain can still listen and perceive music. This is why individuals with dementia or Alzheimer’s can still perceive music. Personalized iPods are mainly used when the resident is in major discomfort, experiencing a new environment, or performing other activities. Music brings them back to a happier time – it may evoke old memories since it is specific to the individual (Raglio et al., 2014). When you think of your favorite song, you usually think of a time in your life when you were listening to it. That’s exactly what happens to these individuals. It helps them remember lyrics and memories long forgotten.
To get more involved with the program, visit the Music and Memory website. The objective is simple, give residents in nursing homes or assisted living homes a chance to listen to their favorite music again. The documentary, “Alive Inside,” shows how it works. You can volunteer with the program at a nearby nursing home, donate an iPod shuffle, get trained to introduce the program to more nursing homes, or donate to help the cause.
There appears to be no limit to the wonders that music brings to us, as research is just beginning to scratch the surface of its impact on our brain and memory. So perhaps next time you visit mom and dad, bring a pair of headphones and let them travel back in time to memories that are rich with dancing and joy.