Study shows how music boosts brain activity

Music soothes the soul and, so it seems, people with dementia. But how?

Music good for brain activity

Music soothes the soul and the savage beast and, so it seems, people with dementia and Alzheimer’s. But how?

A recent study reveals that music helps dementia patients recall memories and emotions when certain music is played. It also shows that singing enhances cognitive ability even more than just listening to music.

Researchers trying to determine the effects of music on dementia patients asked one half of a study group to sing songs and the other half to just listen. The group was then asked to take a cognitive ability and life satisfaction test, the results of which revealed singing participants scored significantly better than their listening counterparts.

Findings of the study include:

  • when music is paired with an everyday activity, Alzheimer’s patients can better recall the activity and improve their cognitive ability over time
  • musical aptitude and appreciation are two abilities that remain long after all other abilities have declined, making it an effective way to reach a person in the later stages of the disease
  • music helps to encourage emotional and physical closeness in dementia patients, which, in turn, creates security and memory recall
  • singing activates the left side of the brain; listening to music engages the right side of the brain; and watching a class participate in musical exercise engages the visual areas of the brain, meaning that music stimulates more brain power than usual
  • music therapy shifts mood and reduces agitation, which then leads to positive interaction and improvement of cognitive function
  • singing requires little mental or physical coordination, but enhances motor skills.

Show tunes, classic hits and songs from movies and musicals have the best effect. Theme music from popular movies such as The Sound of Music and The Wizard of Oz (with its emotionally charged Somewhere Over the Rainbow) work well; as too, will songs from any of your favourite performers, movies or even television commercial jingles.

“The message is: do not give up on these men and women. You want to be performing things that engage them, and singing is cheap, effortless and engaging,” says George Mason University researcher Dr Jane Flinn.


Do you sing a song every day? Were you aware of the mental power of music? Do you have a favourite song that reminds you of a specific time in your life? Why not share it with our members?



    To make a comment, please register or login
    10th Dec 2018
    I sing every day, practice rhythm and bass guitar most days and tryng my hand at ukulele and harmonica.

    Favourite songs run into the thousands and there is never enough time to hear them all, from the classics to rock, folk, blues and newer hits (rap does not really qualify as music).

    I hope that I never lose the ability to play music (however arthritis is beginning to limit me) and if I can't play than I can still listen.
    10th Dec 2018
    Leon dear it's breast not beast.
    10th Dec 2018
    Yes! So often misquoted.
    The phrase was coined by William Congreve, in The Mourning Bride, 1697: Musick has Charms to sooth a savage Breast, To soften Rocks, or bend a knotted Oak.
    11th Dec 2018
    What about learning new things like organic chemistry, advanced algebra, or other kind of science and math? Learning new languages? Computer programming? Studying Law? I wonder if there are any studies that test whether these kind of activities would enhance cognitive abilities.

    It seems that the things that are always suggested to older people are things that cast them into child-like personas. It's usually singing, dancing, puzzles, and games. Any physical activity related to older people is usually always pinned down to something that kids do like the hokey pokey, or line dancing. If I said, well now that I've finally got the time I'm going to take up martial arts and get that black belt - people would disown me - because that isn't what old people do, especially older women. The fact is that even if you are old or have something physically wrong with you, the people who teach this stuff can still work out a way for you to participate.
    11th Dec 2018

    I think most people would think you are wonderful to take up martial arts and gain a black belt. A fabulous goal!!

    Learning a musical instrument or learning a new language is promoted to improve cognitive skills. Indeed taking up anything challenging will help.

    Whilst attending university can be expensive, there are other places to learn, such as the WEA and U3A in local areas; U3A can also be accessed online

    For learning which is more challenging, there a university courses FREE online; indeed many thousands called MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) worldwide. These are offered by the best universities and entities worldwide. Have a look at Also many of these courses are self-paced. You can do them in a length of time convenient to yourself.

    And Cat, now that you have the time, you can do anything you want to do. :-)

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