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The Effect of Music on Memory

Music, memory, and Alzheimer’s disease

When someone you love is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, the diagnosis affects your entire family. It’s a very difficult thing to watch your loved one’s memory slip away piece by piece. There also isn’t a singular pattern that people with Alzheimer’s follow, so you don’t really know what changes in particular to expect as time goes on. Instead, you’ll gradually notice changes in their memory recollection and even their mobility. Despite this, there is one particular part of peoples’ memory that often remains intact after dementia has set in: their musical memory. 

Behind the brain science of memory

It’s a common and understandable question: how can people with Alzheimer’s still retain their musical memory while losing nearly all of their other memories? Scientists who study this issue have divided memories into two distinct categories: explicit memory and implicit memory. 

Explicit memory is remembering specific things from your past, like places you visited, exams you took when you were younger, or activities you did with your family. Implicit memory is more subconscious and allows the person to link something, like a song, to a memory or a moment in time. Implicit memories can include smells from your childhood or music from your teen years. These aren’t specific events, but they’re still memories you associate with certain times in your life. 

What the studies say about music, memory, and mood

There’s no denying that music is powerful, and whether you have Alzheimer’s or not, music is significant to us for many reasons. When a person with dementia begins to decline and lose their memories, their brain will still respond to music, and several music and memory research studies have demonstrated the healing power of music:

  • A UC Davis study mapped the brain activity of students while they listened to music and found that the prefrontal cortex – the region of the brain that retrieves and supports memories – also works to link emotions with familiar music and memories. This finding supports the fact that music can elicit intense responses from people with Alzheimer’s.
  • The University of Miami School of Medicine conducted a study that revealed how music therapy led to an increase of “feel-good” chemicals in the brain, such as serotonin, melatonin, and prolactin. We know that music can put us in a good mood, but now there’s scientific proof. 
  • A study by Boston University posited that music therapy might help people with Alzheimer’s retain new information. In the study, dementia patients were given a series of memory tests, and those who were asked to memorize lyrics set to music remembered more than those who were asked to memorize words that were spoken with no music. 

Spotlight on music therapy in memory care

Many leading Alzheimer’s and dementia programs across the country understand the powerful and positive impacts music can have on those dealing with memory loss. Music therapy has quickly become an integral part of Alzheimer’s care, and at UMC we diligently follow the latest music and memory research to implement effective techniques into our Tapestries program. 

While music is a stress reliever and a mood-booster for many of us, for people with Alzheimer’s, music therapy can be life-changing. We integrate the power of music into our daily routine in our memory care neighborhoods, and we have seen first-hand the positive impacts it has. 

For more information on Tapestries Memory Care at UMC, or if you have any other questions regarding our senior services, please visit our website at: https://umcommunities.org

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