The Brain-Music Connection
Music is profoundly connected to personal memories – it can catapult you back in time as though it were happening for the first time. Not surprising when you understand that our brains are hard-wired to connect music with long-term memory.
Because of how dementia attacks the brain, the most recent memories are often lost first, with memories of teenage years being well preserved. Favorite music associated with important personal events can trigger not only the memory of the lyrics, but also the experience connected to the music. It can calm chaotic brain activity and enable the listener to focus on the present moment and regain connection to others.
Music also activates all parts of the brain, unlike any other activity that will be focused in one area only. In a 2011, Finnish researchers found that listening to music recruits not only the auditory areas of the brain, but also the emotional, motor, and creative areas of the brain. When someone listens to music, the entire brain lights up!
Music & Memory is a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing personalized music to the elderly or infirm using digital music technology, like the iPod Shuffle. When dementia patients are able to listen to the music of their youth, specifically to music that had deep meaning to them personally, incredible things happened. Nursing home residents who had been non-responsive for years were reawakened when presented with digital music players, headphones, and the music that was meaningful to them.
In 2012, a documentary about the work of Music & Memory, Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory, was previewed at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York City, showing in theaters around the country, including our own Varsity Theater in Ashland! Through Music & Memory, over 1,000 locations across the United States and Canada, as well as a dozen caregiving facilities in eight other countries, have programs set up for their residents to provide them with music.
Caring for a family member with dementia can seem an overwhelming responsibility. Creating a personal music playlist for the home can make a huge difference for everyone involved. It can renew connections, ease transitions, and even provide respite time for the caregiver. Music & Memory has programs to help set these up, both in private homes and in assisted living facilities. Of course, you may also contact me – I would be honored to help you in any way I can through your journey.
Gray Matters Consulting
If you would like to learn more about research done or Music and Memory, here is are some interesting links:
Listening to Music Lights up the Whole Brain