Nat King Cole. Beethoven. Queen. The Backstreet Boys. When you hear the music of one of your favorite musicians or bands, how does it make you feel? Chances are some form of nostalgia sets in or you recall a memorable life moment.
Science has found that human brains are hard-wired to connect music with long-term memory. And musical memory is profoundly linked to emotions.
So for the scientist and humanitarian in all of us, this begs the question: If music and long-term memory are somehow linked, what impact can this have on people with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia?
Music has broad therapeutic potential, especially for those who suffer from Alzheimer’s or dementia. It can help manage stress, shift mood, stimulate positivity, improve motor movements, and improve cognitive function.
Music activation is located in the medial prefrontal cortex region, which is one of the last areas of the brain to diminish over the course of memory-deteriorating diseases. Musical memory is profoundly linked to emotions– thus we’re finding that Alzheimer’s does not destroy the lasting connection between a favorite song and a memory of an important life event. People with dementia or Alzheimer’s are sometimes able to reconnect to the world through listening to personal musical favorites.
Music has the potential to not only help the person affected by the disease, but it can also positively impact the lives of their family and the staff members who care for them.
Some benefits of music therapy include:
Many people who have not verbally communicated in years are able to find words and even sing remembered lyrics. Hearing a melody connected to a meaningful memory can provide comfort to those in memory care.
Alzheimer’s and dementia patients can experience restlessness, distress, anxiety, and often wander about the area in which they live. By having an iPod with music they enjoy, wandering and distress often decrease. The music is able to create a soothing, familiar experience for people who are living in what otherwise can be a confusing environment.
The use of music can reduce the reliance on antipsychotic, antianxiety, and antidepressant medications, decreasing the incidence of sundowning. Sundowning is the worsening of confusion or agitation as the day goes on, or as the sun goes down. This is often reduced or even eliminated with music.
Music & Memory, a non-profit organization specializes in launching music and memory programs in memory care facilities across the United States and Canada. Their goal is to create a better quality of life for residents suffering from any time of dementia or mental disorder associated with aging.
The organization works nursing staff and families in order to make a personalized playlist specific to each resident.
The following video is a trailer for a film showing the Music & Memory program in action. The full film was shown at Sundance Film Festival in 2014 where it won the Audience Award. The film follows multiple visionaries in healthcare including Dan Cohen, the founder of the Music & Memory program.
Judson became a Music & Memory certified facility in 2015, and since then we’ve seen positive results with residents of the Reinberger Neighborhood, the memory care unit at Judson Park. Stay tuned for our next blog post to hear from the director of Reinberger and her experience instituting the program at Judson.