Pacifica Senior Living Blog

Music and Memory: Fighting Memory Loss with the Power of Sound

Jul 1, 2022 10:10:43 AM / by Carly Dodd, Pacifica Senior Living

Memory and sense are closely connected. A smell, a feel, or a sound can often evoke strong memories. Music therapy is an important tool in Memory Care fields that can be used to help those dealing with dementia, Alzheimer’s disease or other memory loss conditions.

Music is powerful and emotional. Sounds are so closely linked with internal memories and muscle memories, that often we connect sounds with recollections without even realizing it. If you’ve ever tapped along to a song unconsciously, or remembered all the words to an old childhood tune, you’ve experienced the power music can have in evoking deep, internal memories.

At Pacifica Senior Living, we are constantly learning and adapting to new studies and programs that may help our residents - especially those in our Memory Care residences - enjoy a peaceful, relaxing and comfortable environment and enjoy the maximum quality of life possible. Living with memory conditions can often mean having feelings of confusion, agitation, or unease - associated with gaps in memory - and music has been shown to help reduce these unsettling feelings and encourage calm.

Those who have both mid stage and later stage Alzheimer’s have been known to deeply connect with music which triggers memory systems even when verbal communication is no longer present, or memories and surroundings no longer register as they once did. Many cases have shown miraculous moments of clarity, where songs or sounds have triggered strong reactions and recollections in very late stage individuals.

Music and the Brain

We know that music can stay deep within our memories and subconscious, but how does it work? Music can stimulate brain activity far more easily than recalling memories on their own. Both our hippocampus and frontal cortex - areas of the brain - store memories. When we recall memories, it is usually easier to remember something that is associated with sound, so music - which has rhythm - helps us bring those memories to mind. Music also is usually linked to a strong emotion, and anything that has a strong feeling connected to it can bring that recollection to life more easily. The sounds trigger the parts of the brain associated with emotion, which then link to memory. Many physicians and scientists continue to study the neuroscience behind the effect of music on memory in order to create new therapies and programs which may be able to help health care programs focused on memory loss conditions.

Explicit vs. Implicit Memory:

You may have heard of the difference between long term memory and short term memory. More accurately, memories can be classified as implicit, or explicit. Explicit memories are ones accessed intentionally, where someone is consciously recalling something. This is usually the type of memory we rely on when someone asks us a question like “where were you at this time,“ or “what did you eat for breakfast“. These are the types of memories most damaged by Alzheimer’s disease and dementia related conditions. It can be hard for those suffering from these types of conditions to recall where and when something happened specifically, or to place events on a timeline.

Implicit memory, on the other hand, is a much more involuntary or reactive type of memory. Implicit memories are strong, powerful, and usually connected to emotion or something pivotal in our lives. Because of their connection to feeling, these memories are more durable, and tend to remain in our subconscious even when we experience confusion and disorientation in other aspects of our memory.

Selecting the right type of Music for Memory Care residents

Music is triggering, but it is important to choose the right kind of music for each individual, and their situation. For example, if you are streaming songs from a music provider, commercials can be jarring and do more harm than good, as they might confuse someone, or disorient them. It is always best to pick music that is already familiar to the individual. Pick something that they liked, like favorite songs which have fond memories of, or which they would have heard in their past. When possible, allow the person to pick the song themselves out of a selection of their favorite music.

You can also choose different songs or styles for different occasions. If someone is listening for fun or nostalgia, you may pick an upbeat song, but if you are looking to create a calm and soothing atmosphere, you may opt for a tranquil, soft, or peaceful piece of music without lyrics or strong themes. Shutting out other noises can also help those with memory impairment focus on the music - reduce background noises or shut windows so they can hone in on the sounds you have selected.

How our Memory Care program is using Music & Memory Care

Pacifica Senior Living uses music and the senses to help our Memory Care residents enjoy a more full and engaged life. The power of music to affect personal memories is a tool that we often use in our award-winning memory program. Pacifica Senior Living care facilities offer specialty care and have scheduled music listening time for our residents. We also meet with the family members and loved ones of each resident transitioning to Memory Care in order to build a specifically crafted program that works for them.

For example, if a resident had previous musical training, this can be used as part of their program to stimulate music related memories. We can also work with friends and family to create tailored playlists based on their preferred musical style, or artists that would be associated with fond memories.

Our activities team also chooses programs and stimuli that promote brain boosting and evoke positive memories. Memory Care communities often enjoy live music performances. It is wonderful to see residents come alive inside and light up with the joy of hearing their favorite songs live. Many of our homes also have pianos in the foyer or common room where residents are encouraged to exercise their musical side.

Calming, tranquil music is also paired with our Namaste Care program, which promotes calm, relaxing environments. These quiet, relaxing rooms are a great option for memory care residents that may feel anxious or disoriented at times. This soothing environment uses various senses to promote a welcome, relaxing vibe.

Learn more about our Namaste Program here. 

Implementing research and tools such as these are useful ways our Legacies teams can help those dealing with dementia or memory loss, and work towards finding the stimulants and triggers that work best for each individual.

You can also find more about our Memory Care options or come visit us to see our communities for yourself. 

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Tags: Memory Care