Anyone that has worked with people that have Alzheimer’s Disease understands the importance of music to elicit activity and smiles. The results of a new study help explain why this happens. Printed in the journal Cerebral Cortex, the study find that the part of the brain known as the pre-frontal cortex (immediately behind the forehead) is where memories and emotions are jogged through familiar songs from one’s past.
This area of the brain is often the least or last area impacted by Alzheimer’s Disease. Thus while other areas if the brain are deteriorating, music recollection lives on.
Petr Janata, a cognitive neuroscientist at University of California, Davis, said, “what seems to happen is that a piece of familiar music serves as a soundtrack for a mental movie that starts playing in our head. It calls back memories of a particular person or place, and you might all of a sudden see that person’s face in your mind’s eye” (source).
Those that took part in the study had their brains scanned under an fMRI while listening to songs from the “Top 100” music charts when the subjects were 8-18 years old. They signaled to researchers when particular songs triggered life memories. The fMRI results were charted.
The significance for people with dementia is that they can recall memories and emotions by playing familiar music. Caregivers can use particular songs to spur discussion. Professionals working in long-term care should ask new residents for a list of favorite songs and bands. Family members can make tapes and CDs for use by or for the person with Alzheimer’s.