How Music Helps Dementia, Explained

Kenji Hobbs

08 April 2021

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How Music Helps Dementia, Explained

Are you a regular music listener? Is it an important part of your daily life? You could be improving your mental health, memory and cognitive response without even knowing it.


Music is so wonderful. It comes in a vast range of genres. It is an important part of cultural history. Seeing music live brings people together in the spirit of connection and community. Learning an instrument and playing music with others is incredibly rewarding. Music accompanies the great moments of our lives – just think of graduations, weddings, and birthdays.


It also has a special ability to evoke memory – to bring forth powerful emotions.


Have you ever heard a song on the radio at a supermarket that whisked you back to a very specific time and place? For a moment, you were enveloped in the memory. This recollection can be truly remarkable – and often very emotional.


There’s a reason for this. Listening to music is an extremely powerful way to activate the brain. The reason why? Music activates the auditory, motor, and limbic systems – simultaneously. The rhythm of the song is processed by the motor system, the auditory system processes the sound, and the limbic system is responsible for processing the emotional response to the song.


The best part? It doesn’t matter if you like Mozart or The Rolling Stones – all genres of music activate the same areas of the brain. This is why music therapy has become so important when treating dementia. Playing familiar music to someone with dementia activates an emotional response in the limbic system, inducing a state of relaxation and reducing stress and anxiety.


The activation of the brain in those with dementia when listening to music helps them, for a time, regain a sense of self when memory fails. This often allows caregivers and family to have a conversation about the music with the listener, further reinforcing activation of the brain. Listening to music as a group is especially helpful when treating dementia. Music can help increase socialization and encourage interaction.


Listening to singing can help with speech therapy and enunciation, according to a Harvard Medical study. The reinforcement of patterns and repetition in speech was found to be highly therapeutic, as well as helping with speech comprehension.


Regular stimuli from activities that engage the entire brain, like listening to music, improve the long-term performance of cognitive and motor functions by increasing brain plasticity. So, it is important to not only listen to music, but to enjoy it frequently.


Don’t hesitate – put on your favorite song. Or try listening to something new. Not only is music fun to listen to, play, and see live – it offers truly powerful, medically-proven health benefits.


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