I heard a wonderful piece on NPR yesterday titled “For Elders With Dementia, Musical Awakenings”. It highlights the story of an elderly man named Henry who is in the advanced stages of Alzheimers who is typically unresponsive, yet comes to life when music from his youth is played to him. (You can read more at NPR’s site here and be sure to watch the video at the bottom of this post.
The more I learn about the brain (a hobby of mine) the more fascinated I get about the power of music on brain function and cognition. The process of listening and remembering music engages many different regions of the brain in a complex way and imprints or hardwires these relationships. Although it is possible for people to appreciate new types of music throughout their lifetimes, most musical tastes are fashioned during the teenage years.
For those with dementia, it is no wonder that hearing music that was enjoyed in a formative age would reactivate these hardwired relationships in the brain which then in turn would reengage cognitive functions in these areas.
My parents are 88 and 86 and we are noticing early stages of dementia–you know, those “senior moments” when a parent loses track of which child they are talking about during a conversation. The NPR piece makes me wonder what effect a playlist of my parent’s favorite music would have on them during these earlier stages of random forgetfulness.
I have a few ideas of what kinds of music they loved when they were young–Glenn Miller comes to mind. But, I realize that the time to find out what would be in their favorite playlist is now.
How about you? Do you know what your parent’s favorite songs were when they were young? Perhaps now is the time to find out. I would love to hear your stories.