Music is one of the few things in the world that all humans share. It follows you through life, from teenage joyrides to weddings; it's there in every big moment. This makes music a powerful tool in memory care because people associate songs with memories. Listening to certain songs can help memory care residents rediscover some of those memories.
How does music affect cognitive function? Can it slow cognitive decline or prevent dementia? This article provides the current scientific answers to those questions, discusses how music affects the brain, and covers some of the ways music is used in memory care.
First, it's important to note that there are no easy magic fixes for cognitive decline. Picking up a guitar can't reverse dementia overnight or keep you completely protected from cognitive decline. However, music may hold quality of life benefits for seniors and help them cope with cognitive decline.
A study published in the Alzheimer's Association's journal found that musicians, people who actively played throughout their lives, were at a lower risk of dementia and cognitive decline. The study found musicians had 80% higher odds of being in the top cognition percentile than non-musician. This statistic doesn't necessarily prove causation, though. It could be that more intelligent people — who would be in the higher cognition percentile regardless of whether they played an instrument — are drawn to music at a higher frequency. The study also didn't see a substantial cognitive increase from people who started playing an instrument later in life.
Music is just wiggly air, but the way air wiggles can cause direct and measurable changes to your brain. According to a Johns Hopkins article, music can affect your brain in almost the same way as a drug such as caffeine does. It can help boost your mood, get your creative juices flowing and even bring back old memories.
Listening to music is also more of a brain workout than you might expect. What you perceive as melody and harmony is actually your brain calculating the ratios of different frequencies in the air. Whether the mental exercise of listening to music can prevent or slow cognitive decline is still being researched, and there isn't enough data to come to a conclusion. However, the enjoyment and general mental benefits of music are far from theoretical.
Different types of music can affect your brain differently. They can cause different moods and states of mind. But no one type of music is better or worse for your brain, and how a song affects you is subjective. One person could be put in a great mood by a song that makes another person upset. That being said, due to cultural associations, each genre does cause a specific reaction for the average person. Here's how each genre affects the average person:
Studies have found definitive correlations between playing instruments and increased cognitive function. Many students improve academically when they start playing an instrument, and many important thinkers throughout history practiced music to improve their focus. Exactly why this correlation exists is up for debate. It may be that the mental exercise of playing an instrument helps keep the brain in shape or that it helps create new neural pathways. Either way, it seems very likely that creating music makes you smarter.
Whether music actually guards against cognitive decline is still being studied, but its benefits for mood and quality of life are undeniable. At Broadmoor Court, our staff provides therapies, such as music therapy, that may help memory care residents better enjoy life and manage symptoms. Music therapy in memory care is one of the techniques used for memory discovery. Finding memories that were lost can be a beautiful and emotionally rewarding experience for memory care residents. Some of the other ways to help draw out memories is with memory books, aromatherapy and object therapy.