Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia are some of the most devastating diagnoses for seniors. The tragic effects steal their precious memories a little at a time. There is one area of the brain that remains mostly undamaged throughout the disease process though, and that is the area of musical memory. Memories that are linked to music are often preserved for seniors with dementia, even in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s disease.
Research suggests that both emotional and behavioral benefits can be achieved for this population by listening to familiar music or singing favorite songs. As such many memory care programs are leveraging the healing power of music for the seniors in their care. There are a few things that we need to look at to better understand this connection between memory and music.
The Science Of Memory
Understanding how musical memories can be preserved in a brain affected by dementia requires us to comprehend both explicit memory and implicit memory which are the two types of long-term memory.
Explicit memory is associated with a conscious awareness of events in the past and is deliberate. Examples of this are textbook learning and experiences that we remember. This is the type of memory that fades when a person’s ability to recall is affected such as in the case of Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Implicit memory is automatic and unconscious. It’s the type of memory associated with things like learning to play a musical instrument where you don’t even have to think about it to recall it. It just happens naturally. Implicit memory is usually not affected by neurodegenerative conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer’s. It typically lasts a lifetime. This type of memory possesses the unique power to link a person’s emotions with that moment in time, and since it is usually not affected by memory loss, hearing a certain song can help a senior dealing with memory loss to bring out certain emotions and memories.
Research Proves The Positive Effects of Music on Memory and Mood
When you incorporate music into the lives of seniors affected by Alzheimer’s and dementia, the relaxing and restorative power of music is easy to see. Even as cognitive functions decline as the condition progresses, their brains still respond to music and the benefits continue long after the music stops. Here are some ways that research has helped to explain this connection between music, memory, and mood.
UC Davis researcher Petr Janata found that the area of the brain that supports and retrieves memories also links familiar music with memories and emotions. He did this by mapping the brain activity of students while they were listening to music. This explains why music can elicit such strong emotions and responses from Alzheimer’s sufferers because this is the last area of the brain to atrophy as the disease progresses.
Researchers at the University of Miami School of Medicine conducted a study that found musical therapy to increase the production of certain “feel-good” hormones and neurotransmitters in the brain. They saw an increase in the secretion of melatonin, serotonin, norepinephrine, epinephrine, and prolactin in the Alzheimer’s patients in their study who underwent musical therapy. This is proof that music can boost mood as well as reduce agitation and stress. It can also aid in social interactions, help coordinate motor function, and improve cognition.
Another study conducted at Boston University suggests that music may help those with dementia to retain new information. Alzheimer’s patients in this study were put through a series of memory tests where they gauged their ability to learn new song lyrics. They learned more lyrics when they were set to music. Healthy elderly people in the study learned the same amount of lyrics whether they were set to music or not.
Music Therapy In Memory Care
Music has been used for centuries as a therapy to relieve stress and promote a sense of relaxation and well-being, and now we know that incorporating music into the life of someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia can have a positive effect with profound benefits. A personalized playlist of musical favorites from their past, especially from their formative years, can help them tap into deeply stored and protected memories that will enable them to feel better and stay present longer.
At Ashbridge Manor Senior Living we pride ourselves on creating an environment that enables seniors to lead a fulfilling, socially active lifestyle and independent lifestyle. When it’s time to transition to a senior living facility, contact our professional staff members and we can help make it easy. You can find us at 971 E. Lancaster Avenue in Downingtown, PA, call 610.269.8800, or contact us online for more information. Ask us about our move-in special!