The Association between Music and Memory

Classical music and Alzheimer's / Dementia treatment

September marks the celebration of Classical Music Month.  From Medieval times until the early 1900’s, legendary composers such as Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms created masterpieces that are still enjoyed today.  Music, especially classical, has been linked to the reconnection with memories in patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia, is a neurodegenerative disorder that leads to memory loss.  It can also lead to behavioral, mood, and psychological changes such as agitation, irritability, difficulty with self-care, personality changes, depression, and loneliness.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, one in 10 people age 65 and older has Alzheimer’s dementia.

How Can Music Help?

Music is a portal to access memories, emotions, and connections that are difficult for people suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s to grasp otherwise.  It’s even been described as having the power to awaken patients who have not been able to communicate after suffering from the disease for some time.  Our brains are hardwired to connect music with long-term memory due to its repetitive nature.  Routines and repetitive activities are associated with procedural memory, whereas episodic memory corresponds to specific events.  Dementia destroys episodic memory but leaves procedural memory, and therefore connections to music, largely intact.

Music is also strongly tied to emotions.  A song associated with an important personal event can trigger memories and emotions from that specific point in time.  Connecting with the past also helps patients reconnect with family, friends, loved ones, and caregivers, as they are better able to express their wants, needs, and emotions.

As its effects on memory are better understood, music therapy has become more widely accepted and used in memory care programming.  Personalized music playlists are often created for patients to help them reconnect with their memories and engage more with their current surroundings.

It has been shown that music therapy can result in:

  • Patients and residents are happier and more social
  • Relationships with caregivers, family, and friends deepen as communication increases
  • A calmer, more supportive environment
  • Fewer behavioral issues as stress lessens
  • Maintained focus on the present moment and activities
  • Increased independence
  • Increased overall quality of life

At Traditions Senior Living, memory support programs are founded on the belief that everyone has the ability to learn and succeed, no matter how severe a resident’s memory loss.  Music has been shown to help those suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s continue to learn and succeed by reconnecting with past memories.

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