Dementia is a condition that strikes close to home, my maternal grandmother was afflicted by severe memory loss. As her dementia became more severe, her memory dwindled to the point of forgetting my name. However, my family quickly recognized how music could be used to trigger, and perhaps even improve, her cognitive abilities.
Now, music therapy is utilized widely in Alzheimer’s and dementia care, demonstrating the powerful healing abilities that music has on memory. The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America explains how, while responding to music doesn’t require much cognitive function, it stimulates multiple areas of the brain, boosting brain activity.
Here are some reasons why music is proven to benefit those with memory loss.
Triggers specific memories
Whenever we visit my grandmother, we always congregate around her and sing the same song. And in response, my grandmother, seemingly miraculously, always sings along. Hearing familiar songs can trigger memories associated with that song or a particular time in their life, stimulating cognition around the musical engagement.
Improves emotional state
Often, memory loss can draw individuals into lapses of depression and isolation. Combatting this, music evokes powerful emotions, lifting the spirits and relieving emotional pain. Moreso, a study published in BMC Neuroscience explains how music is not only proven to enhance mood but might also stimulate memory, connecting emotional music with episodic memories.
Offers a sense of control
As individuals lose their memory and other cognitive abilities, they might begin feeling a loss of control, leading to feelings of anxiety, depression and increased isolation. However, singing or listening to live music provides them with a sense of normalcy, as they are able to recall specific lyrics or clap on beat to a favorite song.
Making music is engaging
Music has long been used to encourage social interaction, drawing individuals out of the tendency to self-isolate when their memories lapse. Whether listening to a live band with friends or singing in tandem with a choir, making music can promote social engagement, boosting cognition and mental activity.
Musical aptitude is a lasting ability in dementia patients
Research has shown how musical aptitude is one of the enduring skills in individuals afflicted with dementia and Alzheimer’s. While it won’t cure them of their disease, musical engagement offers a way to find regularity and relief through a medium with which they are familiar.