“[Music] brings back the feeling of life when nothing else can.” — Neurologist & Musicophilia author Oliver Sacks
For many of us, COVID-19 has complicated the already-challenging process of caring for aging parents and other loved ones. Shelter in place and physical distancing recommendations have introduced new obstacles, even as the current reality has accelerated infirmity amongst the elderly. While we’re not qualified to address the vast scope of these issues, a recent conversation with fellow music professional Kevin King reminded us of the scientifically proven healing qualities of music. Four years ago, his mother was diagnosed with Lewy Body Dementia (the same type Robin Williams had) and music is “the one thing that has kept them connected.”
We know that Kevin’s experience is not unique. For those who are also grappling with how to support loved ones with dementia or related health challenges, we’re sharing resources for tapping into music’s therapeutic benefits. First, it’s helpful to understand some of the major health-related findings about music and the brain:
- A 2008 University of Helsinki study demonstrated that music enhances alertness and directly stimulates damaged areas of the brain after a stroke. Verbal memory and focused attention recovered significantly better in patients that listened to music, and they also had a more positive mood.
- According to a 40-year retrospective of related research, music can deliver long-term physiological results, rewiring our brains in a process known as neuroplasticity. Neuroscientists offer the following shorthand for this re-wiring phenomenon: “Neurons that fire together, wire together.”
- Alzheimers.net described that by pairing music with everyday activities, Alzheimer’s patients can develop a rhythm which helps them recall the memory of that activity, improving cognitive ability over time.