When it comes to music’s effect on our emotions, the research is in. Music has been proven to ease anxiety, evoke positive memories, and fill us with awe and joy, even when the brain has been damaged by Alzheimer’s or dementia.

But while music can help us FEEL better, can it also help us THINK better? In honor of Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month, here are three exciting areas of research that explore the connections between music, memory and intelligence.

#1 – “The Mozart Effect”

Perhaps the most striking argument for the connection between music and intelligence is what researchers have dubbed “the Mozart Effect.” According to a study in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine published by J.S. Jenkins, MD FRCP, people who listened to a Mozart sonata for just 10 minutes showed significantly better spatial reasoning skills than those who listened to a guided relaxation and those who sat in silence.

Our spatial reasoning skills, which describe our ability to create an image in our mind and rotate or transform it, are vital to success in the classroom and at work. These are the skills we would tap to put together a puzzle or solve a complex math problem.

Many scientists have attempted to explain exactly how the Mozart Effect works. In studies conducted by researchers B. E. Rideout and C.M. Laubach, listening to Mozart resulted in enhanced neural synchrony, a process considered essential for the nervous system to process information. Another study published by Taylor and Francis showed that listening to music resulted in greater beta power, often associated with a higher state of active mental engagement.

#2 – Instruments and IQ

While listening to music can improve our ability to process information, learning to play an instrument has the power to physically change the shape of our brain and increase our IQ.

That’s because when we learn to play an instrument, we strengthen the areas of the brain that control our hearing, motor skills and information storage. In time, these areas become larger and more active. Changes like these don’t only help us learn how to master our scales on the piano, they spill over into our everyday life.

Researchers have shown that musicians are better at multitasking, making decisions and problem-solving. Some even say learning to play an instrument can increase our IQ scores by up to seven points!

You don’t have to be a concert pianist to enjoy these brain-boosting benefits. One study showed that people over the age of 65 experienced strong changes in their brain chemistry after playing an instrument for just an hour a week. 

#3 – The Connection Between Music and Memory

The most exciting research developments involve the science of music and memory. In addition to helping reduce feelings of irritability, depression and agitation, music therapy has also been proven to help reverse declines in memory and cognition in people with dementia.

In a study published by the Translational Neurodegeneration medical journal, it was suggested that listening to “Spring” from Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” can lead to improved autobiographical memory. Singing along with a song or playing an instrument at the same time has also been linked to improved scores on the Mini-Mental State Exam (MMSE), a test designed to measure an individual’s mental ability. And when people were asked to commit a chunk of text to memory, they experienced much better recall when they sang it compared to reading it aloud.

These exciting studies and others like them are the inspiration behind special programming at Sonata Senior Living’s Memory Care Communities. To learn more about the power of music on memory, call a community near you today to schedule a visit →

For more information on Sonata’s senior living communities, call a community near you today to schedule a visit →

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