Auditory memory is found in a different area of the brain than other memories, depending on, specifically, the area of the temporal lobe that is located near the temple and the ear.

Despite the fact that this area is one of the first to be affected by Alzheimer’s and that under the effects of this disease many patients do not know their own name, nor recognize their closest relatives (spouses, children, siblings…), it is common for people with this dementia to remember songs that they may have heard a long time ago, in their earliest youth. How is it possible that many do not have the ability to speak but can hum songs and get excited about them? Let’s start with the basics.

Alzheimer’s: what is it?

Alzheimer’s, or senile dementia of the Alzheimer’s type, is a neurodegenerative disease that produces severe damage to the brain , killing the nerve cells and breaking the connections between them, which produces an irreversible impairment of cognition, behaviour and, usually, immediate memory. However, intervention based on music therapy can help in its treatment, despite not curing the disease.

It is the most common type of dementia in terms of epidemiology; it is a devastating disease, not only for the sufferer, but also for the patient’s relatives who watch their relative deteriorate and become completely dependent on being an independent and autonomous person.

Even so, in the area in charge of processing and storing the music it seems that the affectation is less than in the other areas. Recent studies carried out by neurologists conclude that, for the most part, patients with an advanced level of this condition maintain their musical memories . In this way, music can help them to relax and improve their mood. In this sense, music therapy is a good option to alleviate the effects of Alzheimer’s.

What is music therapy?

Music therapy is the use of music in interventions carried out in medical, educational and everyday environments . It can be aimed at individuals, groups or communities with the objective of improving their quality of life in different aspects.

The use of music therapy is increasingly being used in the treatment of Alzheimer’s, as well as in intervention for other types of neurological disorders, such as depression, Parkinson’s, schizophrenia and amnesia. One of the major advantages of music therapy is that any family member or caregiver can practice it at home with the patient.

How are music therapy sessions conducted?

The therapy is carried out in a group, the therapists previously investigate the musical biography of the patient, asking their relatives and finding out which musical style is the one the patient used to listen to, or which song has a special meaning for him, that is, which song or theme is linked to a memory that in turn represented a life experience for the patient. For example, the song that was heard when he met his future wife or that melody of an old record player that he listened to in his childhood during the summer break…the examples are countless.

A particular melody or song is a link to past memories in the form of sensations and emotions deeply rooted in our mind. This is because we are emotional beings; let us not be fooled by outdated beliefs that define human beings as rational animals, emotions are very powerful and these precede ideas, since ideas can change according to the emotions we feel. In addition, patients can be invited to dance, in such a way that their physical condition is improved and they interact socially.

The effectiveness of music therapy

Research has focused on determining the efficacy and physiological mechanisms that produce significant improvement in the symptoms of the disease. Music therapy has been shown to improve patient care and mitigate negative symptoms such as irritability, anxiety and sadness.

In a study, it was determined which areas of the brain were activated by listening to music and then analyzed whether the aforementioned areas showed a deterioration or on the contrary, whether they resisted more the advance of neuronal degradation that causes Alzheimer’s. It was concluded that neuronal stimulation through music produces benefits at a cognitive level , that is, it improves concentration and orientation in reality as well as maintaining speech and verbal communication skills. On a physical level it produces a sedative effect, and on a social-emotional level it increases self-esteem, improves social interaction and prevents isolation and loneliness. As it is commonly said, “music is the medicine of the soul”.