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10 reasons to choose music

Studies show that music is a powerful stimulant for the brain, both emotionally and cognitively. This explains why music is a valuable intervention tool in the treatment of people with dementia. Even when cognition, semantics, comprehension, functional memory and information processing are lost, music reaches emotions from areas of the brain where neural activity is still active, in whole or in part.

Regardless of the cause of the dementia, it is the transfer of information from short-term to long-term memory that is disrupted. Retaining new information becomes impossible. Caregivers then look for strategies that will allow this transfer from one memory to the other.

Successful strategies use association, emotional response, mood enhancement, repetition, organization and structure of information, and even humor. Many of these concepts are found in music, which would explain its effectiveness as a memory trigger.

It is the connections of the auditory nerve to key limbic structures in the brain that account for the emotional charge produced by hearing familiar music. The limbic area of the midbrain is involved in long-term memory storage and emotional processing. Because memories persist when they have significant personal connotations for the individual, and because the brain’s processing of familiar music seems to bypass higher cortical structures, it is possible to achieve a “sense of self” in a person with dementia by using music that is meaningful to them.

Using a familiar melody as a memory trigger in the treatment of dementia brings back memories of the past, helping people with dementia to regain their “sense of self”, especially if it involves emotions related to an experience that was important and meaningful to them.

There are many reasons why music is a natural choice for helping people with dementia:

  1. Music maintains and stimulates memory.
  2. Music used in an individualized way can reduce agitated or combative behavior.
  3. Individualized music helps rebuild identity and preserves a “sense of self”.
  4. Music is a non-verbal mode of expression and communication that speaks to emotions and feelings.
  5. Music is an aesthetic experience that reintroduces beauty and spirituality into existence.
  6. Music may have a positive effect in prolonging the ability to make connections and engage in appropriate behavior.
  7. Caregivers can easily incorporate music into their care.
  8. Making music meets psychosocial needs of people with dementia such as: comfort, attachment, inclusion, occupation.
  9. Music allows for connections in all areas.
  10. Music contributes to quality of life by supporting socialization.

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This article is a collaboration of Bev Foster of the Room 217 Foundation.