I read an article in the Guardian Newspaper a while back, about the benefits of singing well-known musicals with people with Alzheimer’s Disease. A four month study in the US showed that regularly singing songs from popular musicals such as ‘My Fair Lady’ and ‘The Sound of Music’ can improve the brain function of people with moderate to severe dementia.
Subjects in the study participated in three 50 minute group sessions per week for four months; showing the importance of involving people with dementia in regular group music sessions. The results showed that cognitive functions were improved after the four month period of regular singing; this was measured using drawing tests and quality of live measurements.
The reason behind this is that familiar music stimulates the brain, involving areas connected with memory (such as the hippocampus). When we listen to music a multitude of events occur; firstly, the primary auditory cortex processes the music and interacts with the frontal lobe. The broca’s area (linked with speech function) responds, causing us to sing along with songs we are familiar with. The medial prefrontal cortex plays a major role as it is linked with cognitive behaviour; expression and social behaviour; this is used when an image of a specific event connected to a song is recalled, such as our first kiss. Therefore, singing well known songs can activate previously unused areas of the brain, leading to an increase in engagement and cognitive stimulation.
The Alzheimer’s Society is an advocate of singing for people with dementia, through their Singing for the Brain (SfTB) groups:
“There is much anecdotal evidence that the groups have real benefits for people with dementia,” a spokesperson said. “Even when many memories are hard to retrieve, music can sometimes still be recalled, if only for a short while. The sessions help people with dementia communicate, improving their mood and leaving them feeling good about themselves.”
In our Musica workshops we see firsthand the amazing benefits of participating in music workshops and singing popular songs, particularly those from the musicals. We sing a variety of well known songs in our sessions and regularly use musicals to form part of our Musica quiz. It is great to see the often immediate improvement in cognitive function after singing a song which ignites a particular memory for a participant living with dementia.
We are going to run a series of posts over the next couple of months for carers of people with dementia, focusing on how you can use simple musical activities each day to benefit their health and wellbeing. If you would like to contribute to this, please put your ideas in a comment below or send me an email Rosanna@musica-music.co.uk
For more information about Musica visit www.musica-music.co.uk