Touching a Chord - Music and Dementia


We’ve all felt it. The rush of powerful emotion that overwhelms us and makes us cry with joy, sadness, or a mixture of a whole rainbow of emotions. We can’t stop the feelings. They burst out from our very soul. And they occur because a melody has chimed with a "something", a "someone" or a "someplace" in our past.

Music, more than any other artistic medium, has the ability to stimulate recall. Sometimes a certain smell will do it, sometimes a sight of something familiar, but seldom with the raw power of a melody.

Dementia brings one closer to one's emotions. I've always laughed easily. Now I cry easily too - and I'm not ashamed of it.

I don't expect anyone else to be moved by the particular music that moves me. It's personal. Connections are made. Memories and their associated emotions are retrieved, and I am helplessly caught up in the emotion they engender. I might feel rapturous joy, I might feel intense despair and sadness.... It doesn't matter. It's the richness of emotion that counts. And I always feel better for it.

For me, the most intense experiences are the ones I'm not expecting. When I hear a tune on the radio that I haven't heard for years, or a favourite that I wasn't expecting.

Don't get me wrong, I have an extensive and eclectic library of much loved music that I like to play, but I find that I am invariably moved and uplifted more intensely by unplanned encounters with "special" tunes. It is unsurprising then, that music is a popular form of therapy for people living with dementia.

It seems to be the case that the areas of the brain that store musical memories are often relatively unaffected by dementia. Musical aptitude and appreciation seem to be some of the last faculties to disappear, and the therapeutic benefits last long after the exposure to the music.

Singing sessions are popular as those singing are "engaged" and stimulated, allowing the "person" to shine through again for a little while.

The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America says that, “When used appropriately, music can shift mood, manage stress-induced agitation, stimulate positive interactions, facilitate cognitive function and coordinate motor movements.” This is because music requires little to no mental processing, so singing music does not require the cognitive function that is not present in most dementia patients. Here in the UK the Alzheimer's Society web site has a page devoted to music, singing and dementia, and you are bound to have some local groups near where you live. Here is some of the music that touches my soul and uplifts me. I'd love to know what YOUR top ten list would be (in no particular order):

Samba Pa Ti - Santana

Still Loving You - Tom Robinson Skip Along Sam - Donovan Moondance - Van Morrison Love Her Madly - The Doors Light Flight - Pentangle Lazy Sunday Afternoon - The Small Faces Marakesh Express - Crosby, Stills and Nash The Walking Man - James Taylor It's Too Late - Carol King

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