music and memory the golden ageWhen it was released in 1927, The Jazz Singer was the first feature-length motion picture with a recorded music score. The movie marked the end of the silent film era, and for the next 20 years, musicals ruled the silver screen.

Movies released during the so-called “Golden Age” include Singin’ in the Rain, The Wizard of Oz and Yankee Doodle Dandy. The films’ songs and dances were a refreshing escape for post-Depression moviegoers and thus resulted in big profits for the movie industry.

But by the end of the 1950s, things changed.

The cost of making a musical—the Technicolor™ film, the costumes and sets—became too much for the movie studios. Plus, audiences’ tastes were also evolving. Around this time, a group from Liverpool called The Beatles (you may have heard of them) brought in a new wave of musical and lyrical experimentation that forever changed pop culture.

Televisions also became more affordable and ubiquitous during this time. Between 1946 and 1951, the number of televisions in use skyrocketed from 6,000 to more than 12 million, according to New York University. Suddenly, a trip to the movie theater wasn’t the only option for entertainment and diversion.

But while the Golden Age of musicals is over, the songs live on. And for many people with Alzheimer’s, these songs provide a critical connection between the past and present.

The Powerful Connection Between Music and Alzheimer’s

Music is a powerful form of therapy for people living with Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Multiple studies, ranging from a 1993 report in the Perceptual and Motor Skills journal to a 2014 study in The Gerontologist, have shown that music can help reduce the severity of age-related declines in cognition and memory.

While scientists are still working to explain the exact connection between music, memory and Alzheimer’s, the leading theory suggests that music memory works differently from other forms of memory.

Petr Janata, a professor of psychology at the Center for Mind and Brain at the University of California, suggests that we encode music more richly. Other memories such as visual images and smells are tied to the musical memories. That’s why people with dementia are able to recall songs from their youth, even when other parts of their brain have been damaged by the condition. It’s also why people who have suffered severe brain injuries are often unable to recall their past, but can sing the lyrics to classics like the Star-Spangled Banner or Somewhere Over the Rainbow.

The Golden Age of Music and Memory

golden age musicalsFor people living with Alzheimer’s, it’s songs from Golden Age hits like the Wizard of Oz and The Sound of Music specifically that seem to have the most impact on their mental and emotional well-being.

A recent article in The Guardian quoted the work of researchers who led a four-month musical therapy program in a U.S. memory care community. When people with Alzheimer’s participated in regular singing sessions that featured songs like My Favorite Things and Follow the Yellow Brick Road, they scored higher on cognitive and drawing tests. They also reported being happier and more satisfied with life at the end of the program.

Another study conducted by researchers at Helsinki University showed listening to music helped improve the mood and orientation skills of people living with Alzheimer’s. After a 10-week singing course, the participants increased their scores on several memory, cognition and attention tests. While in Britain, the U.K. Alzheimer’s Society holds regular group singing sessions to help improve the lives of citizens with dementia and impaired cognitive abilities.

Musical Therapy for People With Alzheimer’s in Florida

Memory care communities in Florida offer musical intervention programs to help residents with Alzheimer’s enjoy a higher quality of life.

At Sonata Senior Living, our Duets program draws from the latest research on music and Alzheimer’s to help promote cognitive rehabilitation, reduce anxiety and improve the overall well-being of our residents living with dementia.

To learn how music in memory care can make a difference for your loved one, call a Serenades Memory Care community near you today or schedule a visit →

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