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Music and Memory at Friendship Center

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By Luciana Mitzkun Cramer, Friendship Center Family Services Director

Most members who attend Friendship Center are delighted with the wide variety of musical programs available. Music fills the soul, but it is also proven to have great benefits for the memory impaired.

When used for recreation, music brings joy to all. Those with mild memory loss can fully appreciate musical performances and enjoy listening to their favorite music. Our members with advanced memory loss enjoy tapping to the beat and singing along with the songs they recognize and love. Some melodies are associated with past events and can evoke fond memories and feelings. Listening to music can be fun and emotional. But far beyond its entertainment value, there is growing evidence that listening to music can also be a powerful therapeutic tool!

For centuries, music has been known to have a calming effect and provide relief from stress and anxiety. New brain-scanning technology has given neuroscientists a renewed interest in discovering how music affects our neural circuits.

Researchers in Finland using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) found that listening to music engages not only the auditory areas of the brain, but also employs large-scale neural networks. For instance, they discovered that the processing of musical rhythms recruits motor areas in the brain, supporting the idea that music and movement are closely intertwined. Limbic areas of the brain, known to be associated with emotions, were found to be involved in the processing of rhythm and tonality. Processing of timbre was found to activate the default mode network. This is a specific set of brain regions that is engaged when individuals are left to think to themselves undisturbed, and is associated with mind-wandering and creativity.

The findings suggest that music can help the brain better organize incoming information. Music engages areas of the brain involved in paying attention, making predictions, and organizing memory. Basically, listening to music stimulates activity throughout the entire brain.

Recent research also showed that listening to music releases dopamine (a neurotransmitter) in the brain sending pleasure signals to the rest of the body. Music makes us feel good!

In dementia care, listening to music can stimulate overall brain activity and help patients maintain higher levels of physical, cognitive, social, and emotional functioning. The sensory and intellectual stimulation it provides can help maintain quality of life or even improve it. Participating in programs where there is live music or opportunities to be involved in music-making, such as the programs offered at Friendship Center, can help patients bridge the isolation often associated with dementia. Benefits include:

      • improved memory
      • positive changes in overall mood and emotional state
      • non-pharmacological management of pain and discomfort
      • stimulation preventing apathy
      • promotion of rhythmic, controlled movement
      • improved communication skills and vocal fluency
      • social interaction
      • calming and stress reduction.

Listening to music and tapping or dancing to its rhythm can be stimulating and fun. Bring your loved one to try one our many musical programs. With two centers, in Goleta and Montecito, we look forward to assisting you and your family!

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