A Note from Rich Stoneking: Music Heals Too

Music has a way of worming into our brains, whether it’s a jingle you can’t forget or songs that really resound. Many of us know exactly which insurance company is “on your side”. I for one will never forget the theme song from my senior year in high school. It was “Jeremiah Was A Bullfrog”. I can still hear the band playing it at every high school football game. Certainly weird, but it sure was memorable.
It’s never too soon to start thinking about how music could help your brain – or your loved ones. Familiar music, such as a favorite playlist, stimulates more regions of the brain than new, unfamiliar music. Music dating back 25 or more years (such as Frank Sinatra to an older adult), stimulates regions of the brain associated with emotion, cognition, and memory affected by early stage Alzheimer’s.

While the “why” of all this isn’t fully known, one thing that is clear is the close connection of music to memory and mood. When you hear a certain song that was important in your past, you automatically think of a certain time or event connected to the music. Then when you listen to that music more frequently, it becomes a cognitive workout for the brain. Stimulating the neural networks in this way on a regular basis strengthens the connectivity within these networks.

If someone you know suffers with cognitive loss, whether it be early Alzheimer’s or otherwise, give music a try. Oftentimes the early Alzheimer’s patient can also be agitated and restless. Familiar music in this situation can have a remarkable calming effect. As Bob Marley once said, “One good thing about music is when it hits you, you feel no pain.”