Singing & Memory

Why music for people living with dementia? The music and memory connection

Well for starters, as Giving Voice board member and neuroscientist Dr. Patricia Izbicki puts it, Making music is truly a whole brain workout.”

According to Dr. Izbicki, what’s unique about music is its “capacity to induce neuroplastic changes in all areas of the brain. You use your occipital lobe to read and interpret pitches and rhythm; your temporal lobe to process sound; your frontal lobe to attend to the music, inhibit irrelevant distractions, and remember what you just played; and your parietal lobe to integrate all of the incoming sensory information.”

And our friends at the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America agree. “For People with dementia-related illness…research and real-life experiences prove that music can be much more than joyful recall.

Listening to music is magical. A song can make us laugh, smile, cry, and even give us chills. Making music takes it one step further. And, the most accessible way to make music is by singing. There’s no special equipment, nothing you have to buy. Even if you’ve been told you can’t sing, you were meant to sing!

Singing is amazing. But, do you know what’s even better?

Singing in a chorus.

Scientific research shows that there is something about singing in a chorus that promotes wellbeing and social connections with positive effects on physical, mental, and brain health.

Many people with Alzheimer’s can enjoy choral singing and gain health benefits from it well after other opportunities for creating, learning, and enjoying friends seem out of reach. The areas of the brain that recall music and nurture singing are among the last to be affected by Alzheimer’s disease. Care partners benefit from singing as well.

Here are some of the things researchers have learned about music and the brain:

  • Recent research has shown that music promotes neuroplasticity, cognitive reserve, and working memory in the brain in older adults.
  • Brain scan images have shown that the dorsal medial pre-frontal cortex (associated with autobiographical memories and emotions) is highly stimulated during music activities.  For people with Alzheimer’s, this area of the brain is one of the last to be affected.
  • One study demonstrated that while singing, memories are produced that contribute to self-discovery, self-understanding and identity.
  • In a study from Finland, memory and mood in people with dementia significantly improved when they took part in regular singing or listening to music.
  • Singing has been shown to increase learning and retention of new verbal material in persons with Alzheimer’s disease, and to engage brain regions responsible for motor action, emotions and creativity.

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