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Music and the Mind

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It was through my experience in a care home that I noticed how people were transformed by music and song. All the residents responded positively to music. If they were not singing along, they were clapping their hands or tapping their feet. 

Listening to and enjoying music is a universal experience. Whether it is jazz, rock or country, music has the power to stimulate and bring to mind forgotten memories. So, could it help in dementia?

Musical emotion and memory are preserved in dementia. A study has showed that regular singing or music listening sessions over 10 weeks can improve cognition and attention in people with dementia (1). Listening to music provokes the recall of personal emotional memories and the names of children and friends.

There is a relationship between music and memory. Musical memory is a form of implicit memory. This is information remembered unconsciously or effortlessly. When music evokes this form of memory it lights up many parts of the brain. 

Music therapy is beneficial in the setting of dementia. It can improve behaviour, cognition and mood. Music may also delay future cognitive decline (2). 

Multiple organisations have recognised the beneficial effect of music for dementia residents in care homes, such as Lost Cord and Singing for the Brain (3, 4). These musicians visit care homes to engage residents in interactive sessions or sing-alongs to enhance vocalisation and mobility.

Music engagement is also appropriate at home; everyone can listen to music at little or no cost, which makes it easy for people with dementia to share the experience with their family and loved ones as a brilliant way of communicating and engaging with them.

Music is an exciting tool for those with dementia; it can bring people with dementia together with their loved ones, improve their self-esteem, as well as triggering memories and boosting cognition as it can reach parts of the brain in ways that other things cannot.


References/further reading:

1. Särkämö T., Tervaniemi M., Laitinen et al. “Cognitive, emotional and social benefits of regular musical activities in early Dementia: randomized control study”. Gerontologist, vol 54, 2014, pp. 634-650. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24009169/ 

2. Elliott M., and Gardner P. “The role of music in the lives of older adults with dementia ageing in place: A scoping review”. Dementia, vol 17, no. 2, 2018, pp. 199-213. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26993049/

3. https://lost-chord.co.uk/

4. http://alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/your-support-services/singing-for-the-brain?documentID=760

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Kevin Harvey

For a while now I’ve been working on a book that explores the relationship between health and reading (reading aloud in particular). I’ve made steady progress, including a recent interview I conducted with the former poet laureate Andrew Motion.

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Neil Chadborn

I feel very honoured to have been awarded an Alzheimer’s Society knowledge exchange fellowship. With this funding I will be working with colleagues in Netherlands to share expertise about dementia care in the community.