Music and Alzheimer’s: What is the link?

Eighty-eight-year-old Alice has advanced Alzheimer’s disease. She is non-verbal and lives in a memory care community. The community invited a pianist to play holiday songs for the residents. To everyone’s surprise, when the first few chords of “Go Tell It on the Mountain” began, Alice clapped her hands and hummed along!  How can this be? What’s the link between memory, music and Alzheimer’s disease?

Hold on to Those Sweet Music Memories

Music is a powerful memory cue for all of us. Think about hearing a song that carries importance in your life, for example from a wedding or a prom. Does it elicit a memory? This remains true even when a neurodegenerative disease takes hold. Many people with Alzheimer’s struggle to remember recent events or conversations and might forget the names of loved ones. However, despite these impairments, they are often still able to tap into musical memories long after other types of memories fade. Remarkable! In fact, people living with dementia are often able to remember things they have repeated many times in their life including skills involving a lot of practice, like playing a musical instrument.

Music and the Long-Term Memory Connection

We have all heard the terms “short-term” memory and “long-term” memory. Short-term memory refers to information processed by someone in a short period of time. Long-term memory allows us to store information for long periods of time. Important information is gradually transferred from short-term memory into long-term memory. The more the information is repeated or used, the more likely it will end up in long-term memory, or to be retained. (That’s why studying helps people to perform better on tests.)

The Legendary Crooner

When Tony Bennett’s family announced he had Alzheimer’s disease, few could have guessed that the 94-year-old singer would still hold two major concerts — performing dozens of songs recalling all the lyrics! This appears to prove when it comes to music and the brain, there is a special link.

Music as Therapy

Music therapy is a common intervention for Alzheimer’s symptoms. Throughout the world, there are several musical programs aimed to improve the quality of life for people with Alzheimer’s.

Compared to medicinal treatments and other available therapies, music therapy is enjoyable and easy to administer. It also comes with the bonus of giving family members the opportunity to bond and reminisce with loved ones.

Hurley Elder Care Law’s care coordination team works with families to find appropriate care, resources, and therapies. Our firm strives to lighten the load for family caregivers and improve their aging loved one’s quality of life…music is one tool in the toolbox!

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