Memory and Music Therapy

Jun 11, 2019 | Miranda Morris, HABIT Program Coordinator | @mirandamorris | Comments (4)

Brain and MusicScientists have long suspected a relationship between memory and music, and there have been some interesting findings to support this idea. Recently, there has been growing interest in the idea that listening to music may benefit people who have memory disorders such as Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). Studies have shown that our memory for music is not centralized in one specific place in the brain but rather it activates a broad network across the brain1. This could be why neurodegenerative diseases may leave musical memory intact2. In addition, the ability to play music is typically preserved in MCI and the early stages of dementia, due to the fact that this is a skill based largely on procedural memory (also known as “habit” memory).

While research on this topic continues, there have already been some interesting findings about how music affects both behavior and cognition in people with AD. For example, one study found that listening to music seemed to stimulate verbalization, improve recall of some memories, and increase relaxation.3 Another group found that music may improve sleep by increasing levels of melatonin in the body4 .

Perhaps one of the most common findings across studies is that effects were stronger when researchers played music that was individualized for the listener instead of randomly chosen music. When researchers played music for those with AD and chose songs from relevant time periods and the person’s favorite songs, patients reported less anxiety and depression.5 In addition, they showed improvement on cognitive tests in terms of overall orientation, language skills and memory!6

There are now more than 70 approved music therapy programs offered at colleges in the US. If you would like more information about music therapy, you may visit

How has music affected you or your loved one with memory loss?

1Groussard, M., Viader, F., Landeau, B., Desgranges, B., Eustache, F., & Platel, H. (2009). Neural correlates underlying musical semantic memory. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1169(1), 278-281.
2Satoh, M., Takeda, K., Nagata, K., Hatazawa, J., & Kuzuhara, S. (2001). Activated brain regions in musicians during an ensemble: a PET study. Cognitive Brain Research, 12(1), 101-108.
3Abraha, I., Rimland, J. M., Trotta, F. M., Dell'Aquila, G., Cruz-Jentoft, A., Petrovic, M., ... & Cherubini, A. (2017). Systematic review of systematic reviews of non-pharmacological interventions to treat behavioural disturbances in older patients with dementia. The SENATOR-OnTop series. BMJ open, 7(3), e012759.
4Kumar, A. M., Tims, F., Cruess, D. G., & Mintzer, M. J. (1999). Music therapy increases serum melatonin levels in patients with Alzheimer's disease. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, 5(6), 49.
5Guetin, S., Portet, F., Picot, M. C., Pommié, C., Messaoudi, M., Djabelkir, L., ... & Touchon, J. (2009). Effect of music therapy on anxiety and depression in patients with Alzheimer’s type dementia: randomised, controlled study. Dementia and geriatric cognitive disorders, 28(1), 36-46.
6Gallego, M. G., & Garcia, J. G. (2017). Music therapy and Alzheimer's disease: Cognitive, psychological, and behavioural effects. Neurología (English Edition), 32(5), 300-308.

Interested in more newsfeed posts like this? Go to the Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) blog.

Interesting subject because I had organic brain syndrome diagnosed years ago. I still have the ability to function in my daily life when everything is stable. My husband helps to keep home life that way. I love music that I remember from years ago especially the kind that doesn't bother my tinnitus and that I can hear with my hearing aids. Some music bothers me like the high shrills and screeching that I used to listen to but I always turn it off. The head injuries of the past gave me a very sensitive brain. I can only listen to music in my home or in the car - never at a concert or theatre. I gave them up since they give me monstrous migraines.


One last thing - since I only just learned about my hearing loss when I was older - I learned tunes of songs but never words. I can hum but never knew the words. That continues up to today...I know many songs but no words, Can't hear the words of such pretty songs.


Interesting subject, we hear a lot about music therapy and memory. My husband started private baritone horn lessons a year ago. He played up to 10th grade in High School but dropped band when his family relocated and he had to attend a new high school. He had inherited his father's horn and we had moved it with us several moves in the last 25 years.
The lessons were enjoyed and he seemed to be doing well until interrupted by dental complications over a month ago. The real result will be known when he resumes lessons and practice. The time off has changed his HABIT.....and he feels he has lost ground. We shall see soon.


Thank you for your comments. I am using the ebook, Living Well With Dementia Through Music, which has a list of popular songs with composer, singer, or show/film and date. We'll see!

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