The Tabernacle Choir Blog

Studies Prove Music Boosts Brain Activity in Alzheimer’s Patients

A recently released documentary titled Alive Inside chronicles how music can awaken and revitalize individuals suffering from memory loss. The film won the audience award at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival and left audiences clapping and cheering.

Family members of those afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease often feel helpless to its varying effects, but there are new reasons to be positive. In addition to the research conducted in the documentary, there are a number of hopeful new studies that prove music boosts brain activities.

Neurologist Oliver Sacks said, “Music evokes emotion, and emotion can bring with it memory. … It brings back the feeling of life when nothing else can.” The website of the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America states, “When used appropriately, music can shift mood, manage stress-induced agitation, stimulate positive interactions, facilitate cognitive function and coordinate motor movements.”

At the present time, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but music therapy has become a popular alternative to alleviate symptoms. In a scene from Alive Inside, an elderly man, Henry, is unable to recognize his daughter or answer a series of questions. Once a pair of headphones was placed on him and he heard some of his favorite music, his demeanor completely changed. He was suddenly aware of his surroundings and was able to describe what the music made him feel, saying, “It gives me the feeling of love—romance.”

“We tend to remain contactable as musical beings on some level right up to the very end of life,” says Professor Paul Robertson, a concert violinist and academic who studies music in dementia care. He added, “We know that the auditory system of the brain is the first to fully function at 16 weeks, which means that you are musically receptive long before anything else. So it’s a case of first in, last out when it comes to a dementia-type breakdown of memory.”

If you or anyone you know lives with the disease or cares for someone with Alzheimer’s or brain-related illness, here are some songs that you might want to consider adding to a personalized playlist.

Over the Rainbow, from The Wizard of Oz 

This Land is Your Land 

Amazing Grace 

He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands 

What a Wonderful World 

Climb Ev’ry Mountain, from The Sound of Music

How Great Thou Ar

Hallelujah Chorus, from Messiah

Tonight, from West Side Story

When the Saints Go Marching In 

When You Wish upon a Star, from Pinocchio

Find many of these songs and more here on our shop page.