Did You Know Music Affects Your Memory?
Music is powerful. It has the ability to evoke strong emotions and memories in all of us. Have you ever heard a song that immediately brought you back to a specific moment in time? Perhaps your first concert, a slow dance from your senior prom, or the song you sang your children before bed every night. We remember because those notes bring us back to the same emotions originally connected to the song in our brains.
Music has been used as a therapy tool for many years. Did you know studies show it can greatly benefit someone with Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia?
Researchers from the Alzheimer’s Association report that there are approximately 5.7 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. That number is only expected to climb these next few years. Having a loved one with this disease can be so challenging. It is difficult to watch them fade as the disease progresses. During this time, we tend to grasp onto any connection we can find to that person we once knew. This is where music can come in and play a seemingly magical role. Not only can it reduce agitation and improve behavioral issues that are often associated with the middle stages of this disease, but as mentioned before, it has the unique power to bring them back to old memories they haven’t visited in years. Even in late stages, when verbal communication has become difficult, individuals have been known to start tapping a beat or humming a tune from the past. Music provides that connection path for us to watch their faces go from blank stares to joyful smiles.
I had the privilege of seeing first hand how music helps those with Alzheimer’s. I spent many hours with a loved one that had been moved into a nursing home. I got to know many of the residents and their families, and I got to interact with them during activities and just walking the halls. Every week a sweet volunteer would come and play songs for the residents and every week I would watch how much joy it brought to so many of them. They would sing old church hymns and fun folk songs. Some would even get up and dance and grab others up to dance with them. One dear lady, in particular, sat and looked off into the distance from her chair week after week, never moving much at all. One week, the volunteer played “Clementine”. She immediately perked up and got up and started clapping her hands and tapping her foot. She had the biggest smile on her face and by the end of it her hands were waving and she was slowly turning in circles. It was beautiful. I asked her son about it the next week, and he told me that she used to be a famous square dancer back in her day. She had won many contests and traveled the world square dancing. That dear lady was in the middle to later stages of Alzheimer’s, and her son had not heard or seen much improvement from her in quite some time. He was thrilled that she experienced that memory again, connecting her to her own past. That one song unlocked something in her that gave her great joy, even if it was just for a brief moment.
If you have a loved one with this disease and you want to try music therapy to help them, there are a few tips when selecting the music.
- Try to identify music that is familiar and enjoyable to them. If they are able, let them choose the music. Church hymns or older folk songs might be a good place to start. If they used to play the piano or the guitar, letting them be around those musical instruments might spur something in them, and they may even be able to still play a song or two.
- Choose music that might help create a certain mood. For example, a tranquil piece of music can create a calming environment. Soft classical music with no lyrics might help bring peace to someone who is agitated. Choosing a faster-paced song from their childhood could boost their spirits and help them to remember lively memories.
- If you are wanting to encourage movement, choose songs with a clapping or tapping beat so that they can join in. Don’t be afraid to dance!
At Seasons, we know how difficult it is to have a loved one who is suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia. We want to walk with you through this difficult time. If you have someone that has been diagnosed with this disease, we would love to support you. Give us a call to find out how we can help.