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Music’s Powerful Impact on Memory in Alzheimer’s Patients

Music’s Powerful Impact on Memory in Alzheimer’s Patients

Posted on Jun 19, 2024

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, affecting more than 6 million Americans over age 65. A progressive brain disorder, Alzheimer’s disease slowly destroys memory and thinking skills, and eventually, the ability to perform simple tasks.

Although, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s did you know that music may have the remarkable ability to awaken memory in people living with this condition? When a dementia patient hears music connected to a memory, they can “re-awaken” and regain the ability to connect with people around them. Sometimes, people who haven’t spoken for years find words and actually sing lyrics.

With a proven track record, the transformations this research-based program bring about are nothing short of miraculous. Below we share how a favorite song can evoke memories, improve communication and lift mood, even in individuals with advanced Alzheimer’s disease.

Awakening memory in people with Alzheimer’s Disease

The salience network of the brain, responsible for long-term music memory, remains an island of remembrance in those with AD. Although dementia damages the ability to recall facts and details, it does not destroy the connection between music, emotions and life events that was created decades earlier. That’s why hearing a beloved tune can trigger autobiographical recall and improve cognitive function in Alzheimer’s patients.1

Familiar music that activates this part of the brain may also help stimulate other parts. Research shows that listening to a personal soundtrack can improve functioning of important networks of the brain. 2

Music as medicine for people with Alzheimer’s disease  

Evidence pointing to the success of music-based interventions for controlling anxiety, depression and agitation in Alzheimer’s Disease patients continues to grow. Studies of people with dementia found that personalized music programs reduced use of anti-psychotropic drugs, anti-depressants and other medications.  In addition, depressive symptoms, pain, falls and aggressive behaviors decreased significantly over time. 3 and 4 

Musical interventions also improved social communication and lessened agitation and anxiety of both Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers. Northwestern University researcher Dr. Borna Bonakdarpour noted, “Caregivers find the person lost to them in the context of music.” 5

As renowned neurologist Oliver Sacks explained: “The past which is not recoverable in any other way is embedded, as if in amber, in the music, and people can regain a sense of identity. “

Unity Hospice and Palliative Care Music and Memory Program

As a Music and Memory certified care organization, we offer the powerful benefits of personalized music. We have long recognized how patients and loved ones can meaningfully connect through musical memories.  

Unity staff is fully trained to develop a personalized playlist for patients, focused on top songs from when they were 15-25 years old. We then provide a CD or MP3 player with the music for patients and families to use at their convenience.

 As the patient reconnects with memories, depression and anxiety is reduced. Participants are happier, more social and more receptive to care and family visits.

Brenda McGarvey, Director of Program Development at Unity, witnessed firsthand the very real power of music during her father’s final days with advanced Alzheimer’s Disease. To everyone’s amazement he was able to recognize his wife after hearing the familiar strains of “their song.” CLICK HERE to watch Brenda describe her incredible experience. 

Trusted Hospice and Palliative Care for Over 30 Years

For more than 30 years, Unity Hospice and Palliative Care’s dedicated teams have provided exceptional care to 30,000+ families. We focus solely on hospice and palliative care, and honor every life with dignity, respect, and unwavering support. Referring patients to Unity means you’ve chosen a partner who shares your priorities, and delivers on them every day. For more information, please contact us:

Call: (888) 618-6489

Email: info@unityhospice.com

1 Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, The Promise of Music Therapy for Alzheimer’s Disease, 2022

2  University of Utah School of Medicine, Music and Memory Battling Effects of Alzheimer’s Disease, 12/19

3 Journal for Post-acute and Long-term Care Medicine (JAMDA), The Impact of Music and Memory on Resident Level Outcomes in California Nursing Homes, 3/20

4 American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, Individualized Music Program is Associated with Improved Outcomes for U.S. Nursing Home Residents with Dementia, 4/17

5 Alzheimer Disease and Associated Disorders Journal, Musical Bridges to Memory, 12/22

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