For a long time, music has been known to help patients struggling with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. But the science behind why has only recently become clear. A recent study shows that Alzheimer’s or dementia patients can recall memories and emotions, and have enhanced mental performance after singing classic hits and show tunes from movies and musicals.
In order to determine the effect that music has on Alzheimer’s patients, researchers led half of the participants through selected songs and the other half only listened to the music. Afterwards, all of the participants took cognitive ability and life satisfaction tests. Those participants who were lead through the songs, versus only listening, scored decidedly better.
Being exposed to music is good for everyone, but the impact it has on the brain is especially good for anyone struggling with memory recall or different forms of dementia.
Here are five reasons why scientists believe that music improves brain activity:
- Music evokes emotions that convey memories: Most of us feel some kind of emotion when listening to music, and emotions then bring up memories. By combining music with normal daily activities, patients can develop a rhythm that helps them to recall the memory of that activity, improving cognitive ability over time. Music also brings up memories from the past that the person can usually not recall. Sometimes listening to music is the only activity that can bring memory temporarily back to someone with Alzheimer’s disease.
- Musical aptitude and appreciation are two of the last remaining abilities in dementia patients: when most other abilities have completely gone, music appreciation remains for many Alzheimer’s patients. It’s one of the best ways to get beyond the disease to the person underneath. You may temporarily see a side of them you haven’t seen in a while, or maybe ever, if the music brings them back to a time before you knew them.
- Music can usher in emotional and physical closeness: Unfortunately, in the later stages of Alzheimer’s, patients lose the ability to emotionally connect with others. But music can stir up joy, dancing, and intimacy where there was previously none. It can connect people in the activity of sitting and experiencing something together.
- Singing is engaging: The singing sessions in the study engaged more than just the brain and the area related to singing. As singing activated the left side of the brain, listening to music sparked activity in the right and watching the class activated visual areas of the brain. Having so much of their brains stimulated allowed the patients to use more mind power than they usually did.
- Music can change moods, alter stress, and trigger positive interactions: Singing requires very little (or none!) mental processing, so singing songs doesn’t require the cognitive function that a lot of other activities require. Therefore, patients can enjoy the luxury of doing something that feels happy, natural, and uncomplicated.
The music you choose to engage with your loved one depends on the person, but classic hits, children’s songs, and hymns are always a good place to start. Try to pick out songs that you know your loved one used to listen to and enjoy, preferably songs from their young adult years. Music brings people together from all different walks of life. It connects us in ways that only art can, in ways that we can’t really put into words, but we know that it’s there.