Skip to main content

Show tunes give Alzheimer's patients something to sing about

April 18, 2014

Music therapy has become increasingly popular as a treatment for Alzheimer's, with a number of organizations using songs to help unlock seniors' memories. While research has shown that listening to songs from their pasts may help improve cognitive functioning in these adults, another group of studies found that singing may be more influential on memory care.

There are many factors that contribute to a healthy lifestyle for seniors who have Alzheimer's, including certain memory exercises and proper diet choices, but one study recently conducted by a group of researchers from George Mason University found that singing may be one of the greatest factors affecting these individuals. 

Study finds songs from popular musicals may improve cognition
Scientists from the university worked with a group of older adults over the course of four months to determine the effect singing may have on cognition. They discovered that seniors who sang tunes from classic musicals performed much better when completing mental tasks than those who merely listened to the songs. According to The Guardian, seniors had the chance to sing songs from "The Sound of Music," "Oklahoma," "Pinocchio" and "The Wizard of Oz." Jane Flinn, a neuroscientist at the institution, explained that the new findings could be revolutionary for long-term care homes, as they could indicate an economical, fun treatment for seniors with dementia.

"Even when people are in the fairly advanced stages of dementia ... singing sessions were still helpful," Flinn explained. "The message is: don't give up on these people. You need to be doing things that engage them, and singing is ... easy and engaging."

Flinn presented the research at the Society for Neuroscience, explaining that seniors who sang well-known songs from these musicals exhibited improved performance over the four-month period, and were better at completing a range of cognitive tasks, including those that test physical functioning and memory capacity.

Singing may have far-reaching benefits for the brain 
BBC News reported that singing may provide a boost for Alzheimer's patients due to the effect it has on the brain. The source followed one couple, Bill and Jean, as they sought treatment for Bill's dementia. Jean explained that as they participated in one program, Singing for the Brain, Bill became increasingly more expressive, social and communicative as time wore on. This may be due to the way singing affects internal rhythm, the source noted.