Virtually all seniors with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, whether they are agitated, lethargic or even with no language abilities, all respond to music. Alzheimer’s causes seniors to lose memory of events—essentially, their personal timeline. However, personal memories are embedded, to some degree, in music. Music pulls from the cortical and subcortical areas of the brain, which aren’t as damaged by Alzheimer’s as the medial temporal lobes. The parts of the brain used for music are close to the ones associated with memory, emotion and mood. Personal memories embedded in music can actually be uncovered by listening to songs from that time in the patient’s life. Along with drawing out old memories, music may actually help seniors remember new verbal information.
A recent study performed by the Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) suggests that seniors with dementia are better able to remember new verbal information when it’s presented in the form of music. In the study, Alzheimer’s patients and healthy seniors were presented with either spoken words or lyrics sung along to music. The researchers used only children’s songs written in the past few years, making sure that the participants did not know the songs. Seniors read the lyrics on the screen while listening to the sung or spoken versions. For those with Alzheimer’s, hearing the song sung significantly improved their recall. The healthy seniors in the control group experienced no difference in results between the sung and spoken versions. These findings offer new possibilities for treating and caring for patients with Alzheimer’s.