Musically minded matters
Music stimulates our brain. The tones and rhythm of music affect many different areas – from movement to memory, cognition, reasoning, information processing and emotion. Imaging of functioning brains has proven this.
The strength of findings has resulted in research being funded around the globe, to explore the preventative and therapeutic potential of music in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. In this article, we’ll explore how music affects the brain and how music as therapy can help you reconnect with loved ones suffering from cognitive decline.
Music with personal meaning can resuscitate cognitive decline momentarily
Music evolved as a way of sharing emotion and bringing people together. Dance and movement is strongly linked with music and rather than being taught, has been shown to be an innate link. Babies respond to music, and we often observe infants moving to music from very early cognitive development stages. Sadly, for some of us, our progressive decline in being able to move smoothly to music is learnt and is affected by our self image, and confidence!
In March 2016, ABC’s Catalyst’s Music on the Brain (source: abc.net.au/catalyst/stories) revealed some incredible research on how personalised music playlists can rekindle the brains of people with cognitive and physical impairment. In fact music has been found to help unfreeze Parkinson’s sufferers experiencing frozen gait, so they can move – or even dance.
With an increasing ageing population, and incidence of neurodegenerative conditions, this research offers hope.
3 facts about how music can help reconnect loved ones
Here are three facts about how music has been found to affect our brain, and how we might use music to help those suffering from cognitive neurodegenerative conditions, reignite neural activity to reconnect, communicate and move.
1: Personalised playlists can stimulate recall and conversation
Macquarie University Clinical Neuropsychologist, Amee Baird shared with Radio National program ‘All in the Mind’ that memories formed in our late teens and early twenties are powerful, and easy to recall (source: abc.net.au/radionational/programs/allinthemind; 1 April 2016). It is around these ages, that we also form strong attachments with genres of music, and musicians.
Immersing in listening to favourite music associated with an individual’s life experiences, has been shown to reconnect those in advanced stages of Alzheimer’s with reality, and importantly with carers. While poignant, the effects are momentary, but can linger for a few hours after music immersion.
How can you help? If someone you care about is in early or advanced stages of cognitive decline, consider compiling a playlist of music that will mean something to them. Listening to music is an indulgence that everyone should be able to access and enjoy. Visit musicandmemory.org to find out how to go about building a personalised playlist.
2: Music can distract positively to mobilise movement
There is evidence to suggest that creating and sharing music was a form of communication that developed before language. Dance and movement in response to music, was another layer of this communication. Babies and toddlers seem to possess a natural ability to move to music. By tapping into the innate link between music and movement, research is showing that the external rhythm provided when listening to music, seems to bypass the defective part of the brain that causes a Parkinson’s patient to freeze up.
How can you help? Explore music therapy programs that may be available in your local area. Find out more at musicandmemory.org and consider introducing music into the lives of your loved one.
3: Immersion in music has been shown to reduce agitation
According to ABC Radio National’s All in the Mind program – Tapping into the Connections Between Music and the Brain – matching the intensity of music to the intensity of agitated behaviour has been shown to have a calming effect on patients with advanced Alzheimer’s.
I believe we could all relate to this, provided the music was personally pleasing or it could have the opposite effect!
For more information about music and cognitive research and therapy visit:
Silver Memories Radio: a radio station dedicated to providing music for cognitive therapy
Sing Out Loud: a choral program for wellbeing
Tapping into the Connections Between Music and the Brain: an article from Radio National
Music and Memory Organisation
Your Brain Matters organisation: a preventative approach to cognitive decline