Research suggests that listening to music or singing songs can provide benefits for our brains. And for people living with dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease, or those with a brain injury, musical memories and abilities would appear to last longer than other areas in the brain. Music has the ability to reduce anxiety and distress, lightening the mood and providing a way to connect with loved ones, especially those who are having difficulty communicating.
When we listen to music the memory centres of the brain can be triggered, such as the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain that regulates emotions. We may remember people, places, and events. Times of emotion.
For example, every time I hear one particular pop song I am taken back to a school retreat where the person in charge had forgotten to bring a variety of records, and we were left replaying the one song we did have over and over!
To people living with dementia such as Alzheimer’s, familiar music can be a form of reminiscence, giving happy memories and connections. Particularly effective seems to be music from their childhoods. Dr Ronald Devere (a Neurologist and memory specialist from the US) tells us:
“Music appears to be a unique and powerful stimulus for reaffirming personal identity and social connectedness in individuals with dementia”
Indeed musical appreciation, skill and enjoyment seem to be amongst the activities resistant to decline in people living with dementia.
I work part-time at a secure dementia home, and it is wonderful to experience people enjoying sing along music, from DVDs showing the music’s words on the TV screen. Many sing along, as the name suggests, while more mobile people may also move with the music. One or two have danced with a caregiver.
Choosing music, and especially songs a person knows from younger days, is a great way to build confidence and lift spirits.
At Mindjig, we are very fortunate to be distributors for the music of the 1930s, 40s, and 50s performed by singer John McSweeney. If you have a loved one living with dementia, you may enjoy singing along to these old time favourites with them.
We have a double CD and two DVDs available for purchase. Here is a sample from 101 Songs you Know by Heart DVD. Note, on the DVD you can display the words on the screen so everyone can join in.