We already know listening to music seems to relax people with dementia. Now we know why. A US study has found listening to familiar songs activates whole areas of the brain, particularly those related to attention, language and visual memory.
To work this out, the researchers helped participants choose meaningful songs and trained the person and their carer to use a portable media player loaded with the songs.
An MRI was then used to scan participants’ brains while they listened to 20-second clips of music versus silence. Listening to the personal soundtrack activated different parts of the brain – and helped them better communicate with each other.
It backs up previous research that shows personalised music programs – such as the American ‘Music & Memory’ program which came to Australia in 2016 and now is being used in over 100 hospitals and aged care homes – can improve the mood of people with dementia.
Tapping into musical memories
So how can you create a playlist for yourself or a family member?
Cherry Hense, music therapist and researcher at University of Melbourne gave the ABC this advice:
- Find songs they listened to during their teens and early 20s
- Ask about experiences — did they go to church regularly and listen to hymns or love musical theatre?
- Search for songs from that genre that would have been current during their youth
- Monitor their reactions to the playlist — are they tapping their feet, singing?
- Adjust the playlist if it is not having the desired effect
It’s not a cure – but she says it can help make the symptoms such as anxiety and agitation more manageable and give the person a better quality of life.
Isn’t that the most important thing?
National Dementia Helpline 1800 100 500