Music seems to be unique in the way that our brains store and process it. Our ability to hear is the first sense we develop in the womb and the last to leave us when we die.

Music doesn’t just affect one part of the brain. In fact, a scan of the brain of someone listening to music shows neural activity in lots of different places including those responsible for memory, emotion, hearing, language, rhythm and physical coordination. Music, emotion and autobiographical memories come together in an area of the brain called the pre-frontal cortex, connecting with many other parts of the brain. So, even if dementia is damaging one part of the brain, that ‘flashback feeling’ music can still reach other parts, almost ‘getting in the back door’ to tap memories and even abilities that were thought lost, restoring a sense of self in a world that is increasingly alien.

Diagram of brain when listening to musicIt’s been shown with research that if people with dementia are offered frequent access to a playlist of music which is highly personal to them, it can:

  • improve their present mood
  • improve their awareness
  • improve their ability to understand and think
  • help their sense of identity and independence

Read more about the research.