Pop, rock, country, jazz, no matter what your preference is, music has made a profound impact on each of our lives. You might start to sing along, or dance when your favorite song or a song from your childhood comes on. Studies have shown that these feelings you experience are the same as what people with Alzheimer’s feel when they listen to music. Music has a deep rooted connection in our brains that doesn’t falter with the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s.
Music and the Brain:
When you listen to music, you are stimulating your entire brain. MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans in individuals with Alzheimer’s displays that music activates connections between neurons and independent neural networks. Here is how music affects some specific regions of the brain:
Hippocampus: This region of the brain is one of the first to be affected by the onset of Alzheimer’s. Listening to music leads to neurogenesis (growth of neurons) which is beneficial for the brain.
Frontal Lobe: Music strengthens the frontal lobes function of thinking, decision making and planning (these processes are severely affected in individuals with Alzheimer’s).
Wernicke’s Area: This area of the brain comprehends oral and written language. When individuals listen to music this area of the brain gets stimulated as it is used to appreciate and analyze music.
Temporal Lobe: Music and various different sounds are processed and enjoyed due to the temporal lobe which processes oral stimuli.
Nucleus Accumbens: Listening to music increases the amount of dopamine released in this area. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter ( chemical messenger that travels between neurons) that enables individuals to carry out activities that we find enjoyable.
Individuals who are in the later stages of Alzheimer’s are shown to be the most unresponsive in terms of motor functions. However, when these individuals listen to music (especially music that has great significance to them) they sometimes display movement. This effect can last up to 10 minutes!
Although music is not proven to cure Alzheimer’s, it does relieve some of the symptoms including stress, anxiety, depression, and agitation which are associated with the disorder. When playing music for your loved one, encourage them to clap or sing along to increase stimulation in their brains. Choosing music which your loved one enjoyed when they were healthy will make their experience more pleasant.