Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Why Music??? part 6 Music and Memory

This is part six of my blog posts where I describe music therapy interactions I've had that are indicative of why music is so meaningful, enriching and sometimes life changing!

This post is not about any one particular music therapy session. It speaks about some general considerations that makes experiencing music comprehensible and enjoyable (as opposed to stressful).

These considerations most often affect the music experience of individuals that have cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer's and/or hearing loss. But many other disorders can be included such as developmental disabilities. In my 20 plus years of providing music therapy to older individuals it is common for music to be played or presented that 1) the person does not know, and 2) is too fast. Lets take these one at a time...

With regard to the first point, it is very common in my experience to see dementia patients, who can not speak, walk, feed themselves, etc, to function at a relatively high level in a music setting. I see people sing, clap and move accurately to the music and make relatively lucid comments about the music or song and even display appropriate emotions. And very often their mood is positively affected. Most often this occurs when the person is familiar with the music or ideally, loves the music thereby stimulating significant positive life memories and associations. This is what I characterize as preferred music. ***Again, this holds true to individuals with various disorders. A very important factor that makes familiar music meaningful is that the person, once they know what the song is, can anticipate what is coming, i.e., lyrics, endings, etc. With cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer's, one part of the brain that processes music (and emotions), our limbic system (in the more secluded hypothalamic region of our brain) stays intact when other parts of the brain, such as those on the periphery, are more commonly subjected to disease and trauma. This allows music memories to be retained when other cognitive abilities are lost. This positive experience of anticipating music is why children often want to listen to a song (or watch a movie) over and over again. When we humans “know what is coming” (anticipation) we feel comfortable. When we feel comfortable we feel safe. Also, it is common for people with hearing loss, who normally have difficulty engaging in music, to sing with enthusiasm. This is possible because they are so familiar with the song (from their past) their positive memory allows the words “roll off their tongue” even though they can't hear the song very well. This anticipation actually gives them the sensation of hearing better because they are successfully engaging in the song.

When music is too fast, people with cognitive disorders and/or hearing loss experience stress and feelings of not being able to “keep up.” This is common even when the music is familiar. When the music is too fast, people have difficulty with singing and/or comprehension. Particularly in a (music) therapy setting we want to encourage and support success not failure.

In my therapy sessions, providing live, preferred music allows me to constantly watch for individuals reactions as they try to participate. If I know they are familiar and like a specific song I go as slow as I need to which allows them to comfortably participate, i.e., sing and/or move with the music and enjoy the experience. With that all in place the positive reminiscence and emotions can become part of their music experience. Then, even those with cognitive disorders and/or hearing loss can experience success with music.

So, "Why music??"... To be able to provide an individual with cognitive disorders (like Alzheimer's) and/or hearing deficits an opportunity to experience success through accurate memories and emotions, stimulated by favorite music. ***These experience are made much more possible when the guidelines mentioned above can be implemented, i.e., having the individual know what song is coming (preferred music) and playing it slow enough to optimize comprehension and enjoyment.

In upcoming posts I will continue with other music therapy/health and wellness related blog posts.  
My prescription this week??? Dig up an old favorite song, CD or album and listen to it with no distractions. And again, enjoy!!!!

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