Most of us listen to music nearly every day, but fewer and fewer people are learning music, either on their own or in school. Many commentators have decried the cultural impact of reduced music education, but there is another consequence we haven’t considered: music’s effect on memory.
Music Creates Emotional Anchors
Listening to and playing music evokes a powerful emotional response (recognized by Plato), which can have profound effects on neurochemistry over time. For those with Alzheimer’s or for those with dementia, or for those at risk for these disorders, listening to the music of their youth may conjure other sensory data from that time. According to neurologist Oliver Sacks, “Music evokes emotion, and emotion can bring with it memory…it brings back the feeling of life when nothing else can.” When pairing listening to music with an activity, loved ones with Alzheimer’s are more cognizant of the moment due to the rhythm of the song that they’re listening to. The more that a loved one desires to pick up an instrument, the more of a chance of successful physical and mental rehabilitation.
Recreates Intimacy Between Loved Ones
According to Partners For Home, music and dancing can be an effective way to promote emotional unity with an elderly parent or grandparent. For example, if a person can do small dance moves while listening to songs, it will lead to more intimate moments such as hugs, kisses and other physical contact, which can bring out a few memories. In short, music does bring a family together and it puts the patient in a good mood since they can listen to something familiar. Simply listening to music can have this effect, but learning to play music allows your brain to remain active, thus, pausing signs of dementia for up to five precious years.
Who Can Help?
Families must remain a part of the solution, but consider bringing a music therapist onto the team. A music therapist tends to the cognitive needs of patients. In addition, it is their job to make sure that the music they provide for their patients is specifically designed for their treatment. Families can help by playing certain tunes like “Sound of Music” or “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, which are perfect songs to start the music therapy sessions for their loved one.
It can be devastating when a loved one begins to lose cognitive function and clarity. Music can be a powerful tool to reconnect with loved ones suffering from memory loss, and can act like a memory preservative throughout life to stave off those effects in our own brains. More research is still needed in this area, but don’t wait for the experts before sitting down at the piano and learning to play.