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The Link Between Music and Memory

Music and Memory

At LSTN, we are all huge music fans and believers that a good album is good for the soul. As we all know from hearing that song associated with a first love or leaving home for good, music is profoundly linked to personal memories. In fact, our brains are hard-wired to connect music with long-term memory.

The effect of music on the mind was the focus of a recent study published in The Journal of Prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease, which determined that music is stored in a part of the brain which is not affected by Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Memory for things—names, places, facts—is compromised, but memories from our teenage years can be well-preserved.

Favorite music or songs associated with important personal events can trigger memory of lyrics and the experience connected to the music. Beloved music often calms chaotic brain activity and enables the listener to focus on the present moment and regain a connection to others.

The most famous examples of music drawing a man from a fugue state is this story of Henry, who becomes more lucid and animated after listening to his favorite songs from his youth.

The 2014 award-winning documentary film Alive Inside follows Dan Cohen, a social worker who is bringing music to people with dementia in nursing homes. Cohen asked a documentary filmmaker to follow him around for three days to witness the astounding effect that music was having on the behavior, mood, and quality of life of patients who appeared to no longer have much of a connection to themselves and the world. The film maker was so moved and impressed that he followed Cohen for months and created this film.

Cohen's method is fairly simple. He asks a resident's family to list the songs or instrumental pieces the person once enjoyed. He then creates an individualized playlist on an MP3 player for the resident.

The music, which ranges from jazz to rock to classical, elicits surprising reactions. Some people, who had seemed unable to speak, proceed to sing and dance to the music, and others are able to recount when and where they had listened to that music. The music seems to open doors to the residents' memory vaults.

There is a growing body of evidence to explain why people in the movie come back to life and begin to feel like their former selves when they listen to their playlists. Listening to and performing music reactivates areas of the brain associated with memory, reasoning, speech, emotion, and reward. Two recent studies—one in the US and the other in Japan—found that music doesn't just help us retrieve stored memories, it also helps us lay down new ones. In both studies, healthy elderly people scored better on tests of memory and reasoning after they had completed several weekly classes in which they did moderate physical exercise to musical accompaniment.

If this isn’t enough to get you to listen to more music, we’re not sure what will :) 

To learn more about the link between music and memory, we recommend the following:

Dr. Oliver Sacks Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain

Michael Rossato-Bennett Alive Inside 

While our donation focus at LSTN is restoring hearing, we also love this - donate old iPods/MP3 players here to help Alzheimer's patients:

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