Music is woven into the fabric of our lives and plays an essential communicative role. It connects us with others, with our own emotions, and ultimately it lays the groundwork for our highly social brains.
Researchers have long noted how music affects infants: listening to music helps soothe them, encourages brain development, and promotes language and social skills. However, for those on the other end of life’s spectrum and living with neurodegenerative diseases like dementia, music can help reconnect a person to themselves - and their memories.
Psyche Loui, director of the MIND Lab (Music Imaging and Neural Dynamics) and associate professor of music at Northeastern University, along with her colleagues, recently published a study showing that listening to their favorite tunes increases connectivity and responsiveness in the brain’s of patients with dementia.
Loui and her team of music therapists, neurologists, and geriatric psychiatrists, published their findings in Nature’s Scientific Reports, identifying how music bridges the gap between the brain’s auditory system and its reward system, the region that manages motivation. They documented that music creates shortcuts that help bring thoughts back into mind.
Loui's study is one of the first to document neurological changes from extended exposure to the music-based intervention. She believes her work will spur more examinations of music’s influence on brain health. While many professionals acknowledge that music therapy helps calm older adults and those with mental illnesses, there is still a tantalising gap in the research on precisely how and to what extent music supports memory, cognition, and executive function. But it's good to know that experts are working on it...
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