This article originally appeared on Live in the Now.
Research in recent years suggests singing is beneficial for dementia patients in multiple ways. It may improve cognition and provide a means to connect with loved ones, as well as reduce stress and depression.
Four Months of Singing Sessions Boosted Cognition
A study found music brought the brain to life and singing resulted in higher scores on cognitive tests. The participants consisted of two groups of nursing home residents: one group had moderate dementia and the other had severe cases of the disease. All underwent 50-minute music sessions three times per week for four months. The songs were familiar show tunes such as “The Sound of Music” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Half of each group sang, while the other half just listened.
Their cognitive skills were assessed before and after the four-month experiment, and the results showed the cognitive abilities of singers in both groups had improved. A comparison of brain scans taken as the patients listened or sang revealed that listening sparked more activity on the right side of the brain, while speaking or singing sparked more activity of the left side.
“These data show that participation in an active singing program for an extended period of time can improve cognition in patients with moderate to severe dementia,” the researchers wrote. The study was presented at the Society for Neuroscience meeting in November of 2013.
Singing Provides a Method to Connect and Communicate
Long after the renowned country singer Glen Campbell was suffering from the ravages of Alzheimer’s, his ability to sing lingered. Why is that?
Scientists know that the process of learning a song doesn’t come easily for people; however, once it is committed to memory, it is readily accessible. Moreover, music memories are preserved in dementia patients for some time after non-music memories have vanished. A 2015 study found that the specific areas of the brain activated by old songs are regions that are resistant to the harmful effects of Alzheimer’s disease.
The tunes learned early in life are particularly beneficial. They evoke emotions that stir memories, an advantage that enhances a sense of self-identity and fosters connectedness with others. For dementia patients, singing tunes that have been long committed to memory provides a way to socialize and express themselves. It makes a means of communication possible when other modes have been blocked.
The research revealing the therapeutic value of singing has prompted the Alzheimer’s Society to offer a service called Singing for the Brain. According to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, “When used appropriately, music can shift mood, manage stress-induced agitation, stimulate positive interactions, facilitate cognitive function, and coordinate motor movements.”