Why is it that if you’re trying to learn script for a performance or a presentation for work it just doesn’t want to stick, yet play a piece of music a couple of times through and the words are there ready for you to belt out to your heart’s content?
Music plays a big part in everyone’s life whether we realise it or not. It more often than not becomes part of our daily routine – waking to an alarm clock radio, listening to music on the way to and from work, background noise whilst out and about; when we hear music it’s stored in the part of our brain that deals with repetitive activities, our muscle memory.
When someone is living with alzheimer’s it tends to be the other part of the brain, the part that deals with the specifics that is affected first and foremost, leaving the muscle memory and our appreciation for music intact.
This is why music plays such an important role in the day to day living of someone with dementia and why activities involving music are an asset in care homes.
We often get asked why we use the same songs to start our sessions, we can enter a room to start a session and more often than not will get asked who we are and what we’re doing there, even if we go on a weekly basis. As soon as we play that first song the room awakens. “Ah Musical Moments, oh, we do love it when you visit”. This first song is our trigger song. It sparks off that muscle memory.
Another question we are asked is, “why are you playing that song if it makes someone cry, surely that’s a bad thing?” That may be because someone has been sat unresponsive for the past half an hour and now, because of this piece of music they are showing emotion. Yes, they might be crying but it means that that one song has sparked an emotional memory, and with a bit of reassurance the crying soon stops and more often than not, that person will sing along with the rest of the song.
Our songs are chosen carefully; music does have emotional content and we hope that by using a good mix we can evoke different pastime memories.
It is so rewarding when you play a piece of music and someone who has shown no signs of wanting to join in suddenly starts singing along. Even the smallest of toe taps or the slightest of smiles is enough to know that certain song holds a special place in their memory.
So why is music magic? It has the ability to stick, when everything else seems to be falling apart. It has the ability to spark emotion and trigger memories from our past. It allows us to retell stories, smile and cry and it allows us to escape our troubles and pain if only for a short period.
By Beth Matthews