Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Music and Memory

Here's a brief story on music being used to help patients with physical traumas of various types regain memories. The key is that music related memories are stored in more than one place in the brain. It's the same principle that allows people with dementia connect with music when they can connect with little else. Here's the concluding paragraph of the article:

>>Experts say that with modern brain imaging, they can actually see that music memories are stored all over the brain, not in just one area. There are studies showing that memories brought back with music can slow the progression, and even improve some types of memory loss.<<


  1. Though I hadn't thought about it particularly, this doesn't surprise me at all, especially this bit

    The music stirred up emotions, linked to memories.

    If you hear music and it evokes emotions, then your memories are going to include:

    - the actual sounds
    - the circumstances in which you first heard the music
    - the emotions involved.

    And of course, if all those aspects of memory are stored in different parts of the brain (which seems to be the case) then musical memories will get distributed.

    My father is suffering from Alzheimers and much of his memory is now very hard to retrieve. I think I will suggest he listen to some music and remind himself of happy times playing the clarinet in amateur orchestras, which he did for about 50 years.

    I might suggest he listen to Beethoven 7 first. Many years ago, he told me that he heard that piece on the radio when he was a schoolboy during WW2 and had been evacuated away from Coventry. He was so impressed by the Allegretto, how an amazing tapestry was built on top of a simple rhythm with almost no tune to it, that he decided on the spot that he wanted to learn an instrument and be able to play music like that! A second-hand clarinet was found for him.

  2. Jonathan - Wonderful story about your father and the clarinet. I hope you do pursue getting him to listen to music, as there are many studies showing it can be effective with Alzheimers patients. As a hospice volunteer I'm currently working with such a patient, playing guitar and singing for him, and more often than not he responds with rhythmic body movements, eye contact and smiles.
    The comment about the Beethoven reminds me of my piano teacher in conservatory years ago. He once said something to the effect he sometimes thought Beethoven was a "charlatan" because there seemed to be practically nothing to the music when analyzed.