Music and Alzheimer's: Breathing Life into Seniors One Note at a Time

By March 10, 2014Dementia

So you’re driving home in rush hour traffic, incessantly tapping your fingertips against the hot leather of the steering wheel. With all these cars packed on the interstate like sardines, you’ve only driven about 20 feet in the last hour. This is, to say the least, frustrating. You’re 60 seconds away from having a meltdown and then it happens; your favorite tune comes on the radio and you feel better almost instantaneously. Suddenly, you feel alive and ready to take on the world. That’s the power of music; a universal language that experts now say can help improve the lives of Alzheimer’s patients.

Music Speaks to the Soul

Without words or conversation, music can make you experience emotions that are often buried. It’s able to perfectly illustrate feelings in a way that would be impossible using any other type of expression. Music allows your mind to enjoy a sense of calm. Certain songs can either represent your heartache or help to heal it. Music penetrates the soul. Taking a lead from those benefits, experts set out to see if music could help seniors with Alzheimer’s in some fashion. What they found was promising, to say the least.

Music is able to activate a part of the brain that actually remains active, despite the presence of dementia. Music seems to cut through the Alzheimer’s, calming seniors and improving their social skills. In fact, when seniors hear music that is familiar, such as big band, they are more likely to feel “at home.” Some experts have even alluded to the fact that music could potentially decrease a senior’s need to take mood altering medications to combat depression.

Making Memories

Brandon Ally, a neuroscientist from Boston University, and a group of peers wanted to take their music and Alzheimer’s research to new heights. They tested a group of 13 people previously diagnosed with early-stage Alzheimer’s and another healthy 14 adults of the same age. Each participant was shown the lyrics of 40 unique songs.

Seniors diagnosed with dementia could recognize 40 percent of the songs that were sung aloud, while they recognized 28 percent of the songs whose lyrics were spoken aloud without accompanying music. Researchers believe that seniors in the Alzheimer’s group were utilizing on parts of the brain not affected by early memory loss that may respond to music. In essence, they were making new memories with the help of music.

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