29 June 2015

Music hath charms...

An article at Long+Short addresses the question "Can music offer the key to treating dementia?"
In most cases of dementia, regardless of whether or not people have had musical training, they retain their capacity to sing, play, whistle, tap, click, clap, drum and dance long after much of the rest of their cognitive apparatus is deeply compromised. Music is often the very last thing to go, especially the embodied memory of music to which people dance or tap out a rhythm. Music anchors patients, Sacks says, in a way that nothing else can, reconnecting them to that sense of self which is in danger of slipping through their fingers. So it can also connect them to other people from whom they often feel estranged.

This is because music is deeply ingrained in the way our brains have developed. Evolutionary psychologists, neuroscientists and experts in music cognition have not yet come up with an entirely convincing argument as to why human brains are so attuned to music. But a growing body of work, much of it only conducted over the last three decades using new techniques for seeing inside the brain while music is being played, suggests that our brains are fundamentally musical. That is why our capacity to play, enjoy and feel music can outlast the deterioration that dementia and other debilitating conditions bring with them...

As science writer Philip Ball argues in The Music Instinct, music is unlike language: it has no dedicated mental circuitry localised in a few areas. Making sense of music is a whole-brain activity: "No other activity seems to use so many parts of the brain at once, nor to promote their integration." When the brain is listening to music it engages the motor centres that govern movement; the primal emotion centres that govern feeling; the language modules that process syntax and semantics; and the cerebellum that helps to keep time. One of the reasons we are so drawn to music is that it is perfectly designed to allow us to make the fullest possible use of our brains...
More at the link.  My mother, who has advanced dementia, experiences special delight from hearing music.


  1. It seems there is a link between antihistamines (anticholinergic drugs) and dementia. An article was posted in JAMA last January citing such a link. If you're interested, Google "antihistamines and dementia".... My mother and my son and I all suffer from seasonal allergies. We have all taken antihistamines to combat allergy symptoms. My mother definitely had dementia when she died, although she did remember who she was and who I was, but she thought she was living in the early seventies, not in 2009. I have noticed some memory problems while taking antihistamines, but didn't realize that it could be a cumulative effect....

    1. "Importantly, the increased risk was only found in people who took these medicines at the equivalent of once every day for more than three years. No link was found at lower levels. "

      more at this link -


  2. My sister used to work at a nursing home. There was a woman in there with dementia who used to be a professional singer and still had a gorgeous singing voice. All she could do was sing "la, la, la" in whatever tune she was making up at that moment, but she still enjoyed doing it. Another dementia patient (who did not have a good singing voice ;) ) even joined in with her once, and they just had a ball.

  3. There is a spectacular documentary, "Alive Inside" that addresses the incredible power of music to temporarily reanimate the minds of those living with dementia. It is currently available on Netflix. I cannot recommend it strongly enough. A trailer is available at the link below:


    1. Looks good. I've added it to my queue. Thanks for the heads-up, Eric.


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