Your Memory on Music – How to prevent memory loss

Did you ever play games like Name that Tune or Songburst? Or sing around the campfire or a piano? Turns out you were exercising your brain and improving your memory!

All Things Considered on NPR recently posted an article on exercising your brain to maintain your memory and to prevent dementia. The article quotes research from Richard Restak, a psychiatrist in Washington, D.C., and author of Think Smart: A Neuroscientist’s Prescription for Improving Your Brain’s Performance. He stated that the brain responds to exercise no matter how old we are.

We use three different types of memory:
• Long-term memory, which is where we record our life stories, procedures, historical facts, important dates and events;
• Sensory memory (also known as Echoic memory), which is immediate recall of what we see, hear, smell, or touch;
• Working memory (sometimes called Short-term memory), which is what we use to keep track of several things at once, like the order of digits in a phone number and the name of the person who called and what they are asking for during the phone call.

In the article, Restak suggests that you can preserve or strengthen your brain by exercising these three types of memory. Being a music therapist, I recommend using music to work on these types of memory.

For instance, to exercise your long term memory, play a song that was popular in when you were in high school and try to recall all the words to the song. Then remember where you were and what your situation in life was when you heard this song.

To exercise your sensory memory, sing the last word or tone you heard in a song. And to exercise your working memory, listen to a phrase of a song and then try to sing it back.

Or work on all three types of memory by learning a new instrument, participating in a choir, or taking up piano lessons again.

But don’t think that doing those exercises means you’re doing music therapy. Remember, music therapy is the enhancement of human capabilities through the planned use of musical influences on human brain functioning. So a music therapist would design a musical intervention that exercises the different types of memory for people who sustained brain injuries, strokes, or have dementia.

When I worked with a gentleman who had Alzheimer’s Disease, I wasn’t trying to improve his memory. Alzheimer’s is a degenerative disease that does not currently have a cure. However, when using music as therapy, he did interact more and remain alert more. He was able to recall song lyrics and stories from his youth. He was also able to match pitches or repeat song lyrics. So I was using music to strengthen the neural connections that were undamaged and perhaps form new ones.

So go strengthen your brain by learning a new song and if you or a loved one needs help, contact me and I’ll help you find a music therapist.