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Music And Memory Research: Music Helps Dementia Patients

Music and Memory Research: Deep Roots Of Music Therapy And Dementia

Music therapy facilitates contact in seemingly non-responsive persons, allowing them to experience and communicate on emotional, social and cognitive level.

Meet Henry, Viral sensation, who taught us the value of connecting through music

Recent studies show that dementia and Alzheimer’s patients recall memories and emotions, and have enhanced mental performance after singing classic hits and show tunes from movies and musicals.  This is indeed a breakthrough in understanding how music affects those with dementia and Alzheimer’s.

What Music Therapy Does For The Dementia/Alzheimer’s Sufferer

Studies provide supporting evidence that music therapy is central to improving the quality of life of those with Alzheimer’s (Aldridge 1994, p. 275). Music also accesses different parts of the brain (especially the right hemisphere and limbic system) because of the many elements involved in music, such as rhythm, melody, pitch, timbre, accent, etc. Language is a function of the left hemisphere. Thus, the combination of language and music, as in song, offers a “…greater chance of activating intact neurological pathways than using language alone” (O’Callaghan, p. 53). There is research that supports the fact that Alzheimer’s patients are able to retain musical perception (Gerdner and Swanson, p. 285). I call the ability to remember music when so many other abilities and memories seem inaccessible ‘musical memory’. I see it when a patient remembers all the words to a song yet rarely speaks or can put a coherent sentence together. I see it when we have sung a song and then five minutes later the patient is still humming it. This is what makes music “…a powerful catalyst for reminiscence…” (Gerdner and Swanson, p. 285).

Music therapist and author Alicia Ann Clair identifies four main benefits for those with late stage dementia:
1. changes in facial expression and tension
2. increased eye contact
3. vocal activity
4. physical movement (Clair, pp. 81-82)

Making Music Therapy Work For Your Loved One With Dementia

It’s pretty easy actually.  Think of the songs your parents listened to when you were young.  Bingo! Play those for them




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