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The Impact of Music on Our Memories

By Steve Toll, care enhancement specialist
 
I will never forget the first time I saw Louis Armstrong perform live at the Steel Pier in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The year was 1962 and I was just a kid. There was something magical about his tone of voice, big smile and laughter and, of course, the amazing sounds that came out of his trumpet. I was spellbound. The bandstand was just a couple of feet off the ground, and I was able to lean on it and focus my full attention on this amazing musical performance. These many years later, I have never forgotten one moment of the show. Whenever I hear a Louis Armstrong song, it triggers that wonderful memory. 
 
Favorite songs trigger memories and those memories are often very complete. They include not only the song and the performer but also how we were feeling at the time, the people we were with, places we have been and events that were happening. That creates a positive impact we can utilize to help ourselves and the people we care for. 
 
This is especially helpful in caring for people living with dementia. Various research shows that the areas of the brain that store musical memories are the last to deteriorate. The results from a recent study indicate that long-term musical memory is better preserved in patients with  Alzheimer’s disease than short-term memory, autobiographical long-term memory and speech. It can, therefore, remain largely intact even in advanced stages of the disease. This explains why individuals who rarely speak will often spontaneously sing when a familiar song is played and, in many cases, the person will share a story inspired by remembering the song. 
 
Positive outlets for emotional expression are critical to maintaining quality of life for those living with dementia. Music is conducive to keeping strong social connections with others. As speech, writing, and other traditional forms of communication are compromised, music provides an alternative means of connection. 
 
That is exactly the intention of “Tune in Tuesdays,” my program of music and conversation on social media. I sing and play songs from the ‘30s through the ‘60s. I talk about the music, what the songs mean to me, and memories I associate with the music. It provides an opportunity for us to listen to some classic tunes and enjoy each other’s company. 
 
What used to be just Tuesdays is now available every day Monday through Friday at 1 p.m. ET on Facebook. “Like” our page and join in the fun no matter where you are or what you’re doing, and add your musical experiences and memories in the comments. You can also see past live sessions by clicking on the Live tab.
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