How does music affect memory? We’ve probably all experienced the phenomenon where an old song reminds us of a time in our lives or even evokes a specific memory. Most people may not give this a second thought. It may seem as sensible as having an old toy from your childhood evoke a memory.
However, studies have shown that music-related memory is a far stronger effect, and that there’s a serious link between music, emotion and memory — one that can actually be used to help Alzheimer’s and dementia sufferers. So how does music affect memory, and how can we use this knowledge to help others?
The Biological Music-Memory Connection
Neurological research has shown the medial prefrontal cortex region of the brain is a hub that connects music, emotion and memories. This is also the area we use to retrieve memories of the past in general. A fascinating discovery scientists have made is that this same area of the brain is one of the longest-surviving areas when it comes to Alzheimer’s and dementia, giving us a clue as to a way to combat the symptoms of these syndromes.
How the Science of Music Can Help Alzheimer’s Sufferers
This discovery has made a way to treat Alzheimer’s sufferers obvious. With the help of their friends, loved ones and the patient him or herself, treatment professionals are creating MP3 playlists for those with Alzheimer’s. The idea is to find songs from the individual’s past that connect directly with important memories like the person’s wedding, the birth of one’s children, moving into their home and so on, to trigger lost memories and bring them back for the patient. While this isn’t a cure for Alzheimer’s, it can go a long way towards easing the suffering of the Alzheimer’s patient and their families.
Procedures like this are already in use in some nursing homes, which have reported a reawakening of dementia sufferers who had been silent and uncommunicative before music therapy, as well as a number of other positive effects among recipients of this therapy, including:
- Generally greater happiness and socialization
- Better relationships with family, friends, peers and staff
- Calmer environment
- Improved behavior
It seems the right music can help isolated Alzheimer’s and dementia sufferers reconnect with the world, and can either take the place or supplement drugs that may have unwanted side effects. Hopefully further research on the relationship between music and memory will lead to more breakthroughs of this kind in the future.
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