How Music Can Keep Old Memories Alive

How Music Can Keep Old Memories Alive

Memories can be triggered through music and some are using it to reach those with Alzheimer's and other cognitive conditions.


As I get older, I find myself reminiscing about my childhood and my past 20 years of life. I just finished my second year of college, and have two years left. I’m standing on the threshold of adulthood, and time has gone by so fast. As I get older, some of my memories become fuzzier, but one source of memory that has stayed intact is my music memory.

When you listen to music, you use multiple areas in your brain (Doctors Video). You use a different part of your brain to understand the language, process the rhythm, tap your foot, and sing the lyrics. Your hippocampus is the main structure for memory storage in the brain, but the cool thing about music is that it is not all stored in that one structure. Although some of my memories become fuzzy, others can be triggered by music.

For example, when I was about four years old, I had a concert in my room to Britney Spears’ “(You Drive Me) Crazy” which was on the NOW 4 Cassette Tape -- there are now 58 NOWs). I put pillows on the ground for seating and made tickets, and when the time came I rolled up my shirt so I was showing my tummy like Britney. The bed was my stage and I rocked it, and I will never forget that funny memory when I hear that song. I still remember most of the words!

My dad also had a tradition of letting me buy one CD per vacation. As soon as I bought that CD, it became the soundtrack to the trip. Now, every time I hear certain songs I immediately think back to the corresponding trip. So without realizing it, my dad helped solidify some of those vacations in my memory through music. So whether you bought a CD for a trip or a song was playing during a special moment, those songs become triggers for future reminiscing.

The Music and Memory Organization has used this form of memory to benefit others. They "help people in nursing homes and other care organizations who suffer from a wide range of cognitive and physical challenges to find renewed meaning and connection in their lives through the gift of personalized music." Music has sparked memories in various patients suffering from dementia and Alzheimer's because although one part of the brain might not be working, other parts are still able to remember the music.

The excitement on these people's' faces can be seen in the documentary, "Alive Inside." The trailer gives you a glimpse of the happiness these people feel to have music back in their lives. At one point a man is crying tears of joy, another man is smiling ear to ear, and a woman is dancing around. These people are able to experience the music that played throughout their lives and remember some of their fondest memories, and their past.

Music is wonderful and we listen to it throughout our lives. From "Baby Beluga" to Justin Timberlake's "Can't Stop the Feeling!", I know I've developed a string of memories that I can revisit throughout my life, and that is a beautiful thing. Everyone has special songs and I hope you enjoy them throughout your life and smile fondly on your memories.

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