Meet Henry, a patient suffering from the debilitating effects of dementia, a state of progressive mental deterioration. While Henry spends most of his days sitting in his chair, unresponsive and unable to recognize close family and friends, he suddenly becomes lucid when introduced to a song from his past. Not only does Henry sit up and sing along to the tune, he talks about his favorite singer and how the music makes him feel.
(Photo via zirconicusso )
This is a classic representation of how music is being used to stimulate Alzheimer and dementia patients. A widely successful treatment method, the practice hasn’t seen much use until recently. Now, experts are delving into the intricacies of just how music stimulates the mind.
According to neurologists at Boston University’s Alzheimer’s Disease Center, the key to musical therapy is likely in the type of memory that is associated with music. Unlike episodic memory, the memory that deals with events in the past, music is linked to procedural memory. Also known as muscle memory, procedural memory is all about repetitive knowledge and chronic activities. Dementia and Alzheimer’s leave procedural memory mostly untouched, offering researchers a way to connect with patients who are otherwise unresponsive.
Not only does music trigger long-lost thoughts, it brings up emotions as well, something also linked with memory retention.
While no one has yet been able to map the complex way music alters brain patterns, according to the report on Life’s Little Mysteries, medical professionals are hopeful they might be able to use music to help patients remember when to take medications, where they live, and what day of the week it is.
“The lyrics need to fit the music in a way that’s natural and enhancing, and the process of fitting is extremely important,” said Andrew Budson, associate director for research at the center.
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