Scientists 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 www.musictherapy.org.
How has music affected you or your loved one with memory loss?