Updated: Jul 28
“I see trees of green- Red roses too, I see them bloom- For me and for you... “
“You may say I'm a dreamer, But I'm not the only one…”
"Almost Heaven, West Virginia. Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River…"
“Bye, bye Miss American Pie- Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry... ”
“Born down in a dead man's town -The first kick I took was when I hit the ground…”
“Woah, we're halfway there -Woah, livin' on a prayer -Take my hand, we'll make it I swear… "
Surely while reading these lyrics, you experienced a trickle or a flood of memories or maybe the tingle of emotion not born of the present moment. You may recall a moment in time - where you were, who you were with, and what was going on. Or you may be transported back to a period in your life filled with joy, romance, frustration, even grief. How does this happen, and how can we harness that power to enrich and enliven the lives of those living with Dementia?
Much academic study has focused on how background music affects cognitive processing. Because listening to music elevates arousal (or physiological activity), mood, and the listener’s enjoyment, cognitive performance is also increased.(2) Working memory is tasked with interpreting a series of sounds into the rhythms and melodies that make it music. This helps explain why memories associated with particular songs are often permanently etched in our brains – our cognitive processing was on overdrive when those memories were being recorded and transferred to long-term memory.
Music and emotion are intertwined. Not only does heightened arousal fortify memories made while listening to particular pieces of music, but the same is also true for emotions. Increased blood flow to areas of the brain involved in generating and controlling emotions activates the functions of emotion, attention, and memory. (4) Further, consider how rhythm compels us to move. Slow dance with your partner, or the exuberance of singing and dancing with friends. We, as humans, are moved emotionally by music. (3)
Early adulthood is filled with new emotions and experiences gained as we move towards independence- these experiences are a big part of how we see our “selves”. So it is not surprising that people most prefer and are most stimulated by music that was popular when they were young adults. Past romantic relationships and experiences with friends and family are most often recalled with the replay of music. (1)
As Dementia progresses, using music to help individuals remember their vibrant, youthful “selves” can bring joy to caregivers and patients alike. When one hears a piece of music from years gone by, the pleasant memory and emotion can be experienced again and again. Recognizing that "remembered joy" in your loved one living with Dementia can be just the uplifting moment a caregiver needs. Dementia or not, you can transport back to happy times through music as a reprieve from everyday stresses and frustrations. It's free. It's easy. It’s fun.
Do you remember when- we used to sing Sha la la la la la la la la la la te da, la te da?
1 Baumgartner, Hans. 1992. Remembrance of Things Past: Music, Autobiographical Memory, and Emotion, in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 19: pp. 613-620. Accessed September 22, 2020, at https://www.acrwebsite.org/volumes/7363/
2 Bottiroli, Sara et. al. Frontiers in Aging Neurosci., 15 October 2014. The cognitive effects of listening to background music on older adults: processing speed improves with upbeat music, while memory seems to benefit from both upbeat and downbeat music. Accessed September 22, 2020, at https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnagi.2014.00284/full
3 Proverbio, A. M. et al. The effect of background music on episodic memory and autonomic responses: listening to emotionally touching music enhances facial memory capacity. Sci. Rep. Accessed September 22, 2020, at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4606564/
4 Lutz, Jäncke. Music, memory, and emotion. J Biol. 2008; 7(6): 21. Published online 2008 Aug 8. Accessed October 5, 2020, at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2776393/
Contributor: Karen R. Ogden, team member, Dementia Society of America. The opinions expressed by contributing authors are not necessarily the opinions of the Dementia Society, Inc. We do not endorse nor guarantee products, comments, suggestions, links, or other forms of the content contained within blog posts that have been provided to us with permission, or otherwise. Dementia Society does not provide medical advice. Please consult your doctor. www.DementiaSociety.org