The Powerful Effects of Music on Memory

Music has long been known to affect those with Dementia, Alzheimer’s, and other memory loss conditions, but it has not been known until recently what exactly those effects are. According to, a recent study has shown that those affected by Alzheimer’s or Dementia were better able to recall memories and express emotion, and had overall enhanced mental performance after singing popular songs from TV shows or Broadway musicals.

5 Effects of Music On the Mind and Body

Music Stimulates the Mind

When music is paired with everyday activities, it can help those with memory loss develop a rhythm that will help them recall doing the activity, and also improve their ability to do it over time. Neurologist Oliver Sacks says that, “Music evokes emotion, and emotion can bring with it memory… it brings back the feeling of life when nothing else can.” Current research also suggests that the areas in which the brain processes music seem to be less damaged by Alzheimer’s or Dementia compared to other parts of the brain. Accessing these less damaged areas may help support other areas of the brain that are not functioning as well.

Music Can be Used as a Form of Therapy

Music therapy has been considered one of the most effective activities for those with Dementia or Alzheimer’s. Music therapy activities include anything from listening, performing, composing, or improvising a musical piece. This form of therapy has also been said to stimulate remote memory, helping individuals reduce confusion of their current surroundings.

Music therapy is not just for those in the late stages of Alzheimer’s. In fact, it is better to be implemented in the early stages of the disease where the person is better able to communicate their music preference. This helps with finding different pieces that you know they will enjoy and will have a positive effect on them as the disease progresses.

Music Can Engage You and Your Loved One

As Dementia or Alzheimer’s disease progresses into the later stages, those suffering often slowly lose the ability to express emotions to their caregivers. When music is played, they may feel the positive urge to move around and dance, which can lead to signs of physical affection such as hugs, kisses, and touching that may bring back memories and emotions. Incorporating music into personal care routines can also help the tasks become more enjoyable for the both of you. Being able to sing along to your favorite songs in a carefree way can set a good tone for the rest of the day and put your loved one in a happy mood.

Music Can Shift Mood and Reduce Stress or Anxiety

Research suggests that some form of agitation affects between 70%-90% of individuals in the advanced stages of Dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Therefore, reducing agitation in those who suffer from a memory loss condition is extremely important. Research also suggests that playing the person’s favorite song can improve their mood, reduce agitation, improve social interaction, influence motor skills, and facilitate cognition. These positive reactions that the brain has to music require little to no mental processing to achieve and do not involve any cognitive function – something that people with Alzheimer’s or Dementia slowly lose over time. Researchers at Stanford University discovered that listening to music can change brain functioning in similar ways to some medications. Types of music that have been shown to reduce stress the most include:

  • Native American, Celtic, Indian stringed-instruments, drums and flutes
  • Sounds of rain, thunder and nature sounds
  • Light jazz, classical and easy listening music

Music Can be a Form of Communication

Caregiving can be one of the most rewarding yet taxing experiences in life, and can be made more difficult when the one you are caring for loses their ability to communicate verbally. Music can act as a bridge between caregivers and their loved ones when words are no longer effective. As said earlier, music can help evoke emotion, so playing music for your loved one as often as possible can help them begin to remember certain emotions and use those as their tools for communication.