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Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia, Health & Wellness, Lifestyle

Music’s Miraculous Effect on Memory

With today’s increased life expectancy comes the greater likelihood of decline in our cognitive functions. In fact, it’s estimated that by the year 2050, 114 million people will be diagnosed with dementia – one of the major causes of disability and dependence in older adults. As those with loved ones experiencing dementia know, it’s a difficult and heart-wrenching disability that seemingly robs them of their memories, personality and ability to communicate. As doctors and psychologists look for ways to address Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia, one promising new therapy is asking the question: Does music have an effect on memory?

To the family members of Henry, a man in the very late stages of dementia, the answer is a resounding yes! Henry can no longer remember his family or speak or care for himself. But when he listens to a song from his early adulthood, his eyes light up, his face becomes animated and he begins singing along. It’s an amazing transformation simply from listening to music.

So what’s behind music’s effect on memory? Researchers believe it has to do with the parts of the brain that music stimulates. Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia wreak havoc on the areas of the brain responsible for both long-term memory and what’s sometimes called working memory. However, neuroscientists have come to understand that with many degenerative cognitive conditions, the area of the brain responsible for musical memory is the last to be affected. It’s believed that listening to or performing music can reactivate the areas of the brain associated with memory, reasoning, speech, emotion and reward. Some patients even remember how to speak after careful and regular music sessions by singing their thoughts first and gradually dropping the melody.

Playing an instrument in childhood has also been found to enhance cognitive abilities later in life, according to a study conducted by Brenda Hanna-Pladdy, a clinical neuropsychologist in Emory’s Department of Neurology. These researchers found that people who had played an instrument for a decade or longer scored significantly higher on tests than those with no musical background.

senior writing in a notebook

Personalized playlists are important.

The effect of music on memory can be seen in a general way with dementia patients, and some studies show results simply by introducing classical music into their lives on a regular basis. But one of the keys to help spur the brain to action is using specific music that resonates with that person. Creating playlists of songs that are important to the patient or related to specific times or events in their lives seems to have the greatest probability of stimulating memory and speech.

senior man enjoying music he's listening to in his senior apartment

Music and Memory

MUSIC & MEMORY® is a nonprofit organization that provides personalized music playlists to elderly people suffering from a multitude of cognitive issues. Their simple yet effective approach involves training senior care professionals to set up music playlists personalized to each patient. They can then develop a schedule and facilitate listening for those in their care. These playlists of musical favorites can tap into deep memories unaffected by cognitive decline and can awaken participants – enabling them to converse, socialize and stay present.

MUSIC & MEMORY’s ongoing research and evaluation with care organizations has shown some consistent results including:

  • Reports of participants being happier and more social
  • Deepened relationships among staff, participants and family members
  • A positive approach resulting in a calmer, more supportive social environment
  • Fewer behavior management issues and thus better use of staff time and energy
  • One more tool to help reduce reliance on antipsychotic medications

a senior holding another's hands in theirs

MUSIC & MEMORY at The Stayton at Museum Way

In addition to our commitment to wellness, The Stayton at Museum Way believes in music’s effect on memory and is a certified MUSIC & MEMORY  care facility employing personalized musical playlists to residents who suffer from cognitive decline. Plus, our highly trained and dedicated team members work to provide as much individual choice as possible while creating familiar routines to foster self-esteem and well-being. Our homelike  environment provides a comfortable setting for those requiring care for Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia, and our professional team members  deliver personal and thoughtful care to help residents dealing with cognitive disabilities. Other memory care amenities include:

  • Common areas designed to encourage interaction and relaxation
  • Three chef-prepared meals daily
  • Snacks and beverages, 24 hours a day
  • 24-hour supervised care in a customized environment
  • Medication monitoring and administration

If you’ve been wondering about music’s effect on memory and you’ve been looking for a senior living community that uses music therapy as part of their memory care programming, fill out the form below to be contacted by one of our helpful representatives.

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