This I Have Learned … Music and Mind Connection

Mary Jo Bellner Swartzberg

“Music is the medicine of the soul.” —Plato

In 2020 the Harvard Health blog published an AARP study about the various ways in which music can affect one’s life. It comes as no surprise, of course, that music can affect all aspects of your life, including your well-being, cognitive function, quality of life, learning, and happiness. Specifically, the AARP study showed some interesting findings:

Music listeners had higher scores for mental well-being and slightly reduced levels of anxiety and depression compared to people overall.

Of survey respondents who currently go to musical performances, 69% rated their brain health as “excellent” or “very good,” compared to 58% for those who went in the past and 52% for those who never attended.

Of those who reported often being exposed to music as a child, 68% rated their ability to learn new things as “excellent” or “very good,” compared to 50% of those who were not exposed to music.

Active musical engagement, including those older than 50, was associated with higher rates of happiness and good cognitive function.

Adults with no early music exposure but who currently engage in some music appreciation show above-average mental well-being scores.

The Harvard Health blog, however, indicated that the survey had several limitations, including that the outcomes were not based on objective measurements, such as tests to measure cognition. Nonetheless, despite the shortcomings of the AARP study, the blog does state that there are some similarities between the study and cognitive neuroscience research regarding how music “mechanisms” can affect the brain:

*Music activities activate almost all of the brain.

*Using the brain strengthens the brain.

*Music activities keep your brain networks strong.

*Dancing is good for the brain.

The bottom line—it appears that music can override a number of issues for people with dementia.

Further, a July 2022 Relish Life blog (a blog out of England) posted an article on the topic “Music and Dementia: Therapeutic Benefits.” The author writes, “Music is incredibly powerful—and the auditory part of the brain is one of the first senses to fully develop, meaning that we can remember sounds and songs from our childhood long before we even learned how to communicate.”

The article indicates that memory care facilities are using music to help people with dementia, as music helps to restore long-ago memories that have been lost. In recognizing a piece of music, this can trigger memories, which, in turn, can elicit strong emotions and, therefore, start conversations. This, the article states, helps with interaction with family members and friends.

Specifically, the article states that the benefits of music for a person with dementia include reminiscing, relaxing, sensory exploration, communicating, and remembering.

It might be apropos to note here that it is a poignant experience to sing at a memory care facility and to see firsthand how music can affect individuals with cognition issues. While many of these individuals show no affect (emotion), when the music and singing begin, they start to sing, mouth the words, or begin to clap. Clearly, music unlocks memories from the past for these individuals.

There are several music singing groups here in SaddleBrooke. Please consider exploring them!

For further information on this topic, go to:

This I have learned …