How Music Improves Memory

Music has a powerful effect on people. Most of us can probably remember a time when a song hit us on a deep emotional level, whether it made us feel serene, blissful, or sad. Whatever the emotions associated with it, that one song brings them back in force along with the memories surrounding it.music and memory

It is this power of music that is now being used to help older patients with Alzheimer’s and dementia. Studies are showing more and more that music can help seniors with memory loss begin to recall old memories that were previously locked away.

Music and the Brain

When your brain forms a memory, it does so by wiring it into neural pathways. The strength of a memory depends on how many pathways are formed, which ultimately depends on how much of your brain it involves. For example, you might remember something you read on paper, but if you write it down yourself afterward, you create another neural pathway to the memory.

Emotions of all kinds have a strong impact on the brain, so memories that are profoundly emotional will tend to last much longer. Since music often triggers emotions, it will tend to help certain memories remain longer than others. Also, music itself is stored in the mind in such a way that it lasts much longer than memories of events.

When you hear a song, your brain can recall a memory associated with it, even if that memory hasn’t been recalled in a long time. This is central to the purpose of music therapy.

Improving Memory, Improving Life

Many individuals who have dementia may seem unreachable or unresponsive. However, if you give them a song to listen to, especially one they are familiar with, they immediately wake up. This is what the Music and Memory program, offered at our ABRI ‘Free To Be Me” Memory Care Units, is all about.

This program, founded by Dan Cohen, trains senior care personnel and family members on creating personalized playlists for seniors in their care. These playlists are saved to a mobile device, such as an iPod, and delivered to the patient. He or she can then listen to their songs through headphones.

The results have been phenomenal. Since testing this initiative at various senior care facilities, there have been increases in overall quality of life, including:

  • Improved social interaction
  • Higher morale among both patients and staff
  • Reduced agitation
  • Reduced reliance on antipsychotic medication

At Senior Care Centers, we have begun implementing Music and Memory at two of our homes. To learn more about this program and our other services, contact us.

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