Combating Dementia: Music & Memory

April 17th, 2023. By Cayden Tu '24

Music and memory are interwoven in the complex fabric that makes up the human brain. New research indicates that music, and the brain's response to it, may provide key understandings in how to engage Alzheimer's patients. In this article, read about the unique connection researchers are discovering between memory loss, music, and engaging emotional responses that families of seniors once feared were lost.

From the hip-hop rhythms of the new J. Cole album to classical Beethoven, music is a staple in life. Music can improve mood, from calming individuals in times of worry to “hyping” people before a sporting event. However, music can also positively impact seniors who suffer from memory loss. There have been studies on the connections of music and memory, including the relationship of music to human cognition, especially in cases of dementia. One researcher named Alaine Reschke-Hernandez played the song, “Sweet Caroline” to seniors; though most music fans would have assumed that the listeners would dance and sing along, instead, these seniors burst into tears. Music can influence emotions decades later, bringing back an senior's early memories. Reschke-Hernandez wanted to further discover the benefits of music therapy and joined with neuroscientists to see if music-associated memories could help calm the emotions of people with dementia.

During this research, they asked the participants, who were 19 vibrant older adults and 20 others with Alzheimer’s disease, to select songs that made them feel a wide range of emotions (from immense sadness to elated happiness). When these people started to listen to the music they chose, they told researchers what emotions they experienced or if any memories came to their mind. For 20 minutes in both the older adults and the participants with Alzheimer’s disease, positive and negative feelings emerged, even if they did not remember listening to the song. This research suggests a major epiphany: emotional responses to music do not solely depend on recalling of memory. For doctors and caregivers, this could be a major step towards helping loved ones who might be at the stage of losing their memory. Despite the fact that some songs may cause negative emotions to surface, music may provide a key understanding as to how to engage Alzheimer patients with their family and friends.

Scientifically, researchers have a guess as to why music might provide a key to unlocking the memory of seniors with Alzheimer’s or dementia. The brain regions involved in recognizing music remain untouched by Alzheimer's, thus signifying that music might boost memories in these patients. Even though there has not been much research on the correlation between music and mental illnesses, the scientific data gained from projects like these gives hope for those who feel the pain of loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

People reading this article can still engage in the scientific journey of music. A documentary in 2014 was one of the first movies discussing the benefits of music. This documentary is called Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory. Furthermore, there are many websites discussing the power of music and memory. This research can help you or someone in your life who is struggling with memory loss.


Devere, Ronald. “Music and Dementia: An Overview.” Practical Neurology, Bryn Mawr Communications, June 2017,

Lloreda, Claudia Lopez. “A Music Therapist Seeks to Tap into Long-Lost Memories.” Science News, 9 Apr. 2021,