Listening to Familiar Music May Lead to Some Improvements in Those with Alzheimer's
The Christmas carols that are playing on the radio often remind me of my childhood. I remember singing along with "Frosty the Snowman" and "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" when they came on TV. So I was interested to find out that loved ones who have Alzheimer's disease and other dementias respond to music, even in the later stages.
In "Wired for Sound" in the December 2008 issue of O Magazine, Dr. Oliver Sacks noted, "Alzheimer's can totally destroy the ability to remember family members or events from one's own life - but musical memory somehow survives the ravages of disease, and even in people with advanced dementia, music can often reawaken personal memories and associations that are otherwise lost."
Dr. Sacks describes meeting an 82-year-old gentleman who had begun to display signs of Alzheimer's for 15 years earlier. Dr. Sacks found that when asked to sing (an activity that had been a central part of the gentleman's family life), the gentleman was totally engaged. "Indeed, he seemed so whole, so ‘normal' when singing that his disorientation, his confusion when he was not singing came as something of a shock," Dr. Sacks said.
Dr. Sacks noted that people with Alzheimer's can experience improvements in mood, behavior and cognitive function that last for hours or days after listening to music that they knew before. "Researchers are only beginning to study the secrets of why and how this happens; for now, we simply know...that music is a powerful therapy for those with nearly any kind of neurological problem," the noted neurologist said. "Music is more than a beautiful luxury: It is a fundamental way of expressing our humanity-and it is often our best medicine."