Singing Show Tunes Boosts Brain Power in Dementia Patients

The Society for Neuroscience 2013 conference this week in San Diego brought forth a multitude of new discoveries in the field. One in particular stood out to us, because it demonstrated an extremely simple way to help boost brain power of elderly patients with dementia.

Music Programming

Researchers at George Mason University evaluated the effect that listening to and singing songs has on dementia patients. They referred to the process as “music programming” and the results of their study seem promising.

Scientists conducted their study at a long term care facility on the East Coast and divided dementia patients into two separate groups. Over the course of four months, the two groups both listened to music, show tunes in specific. Study leaders chose songs that were likely familiar to the patients, like tunes from the Sound of Music and The Wizard of Oz.

“A lot of people have grown up singing songs and for a long time the memories are still there,” Jane Flinn, a neuroscientist at the university told The Guardian. “When they start singing it can revive those memories.”

Study Details 

Both groups listened to the songs, but only one group sang along in the music sessions, which lasted 50 minutes each and were held 3 times a week. At the end of the study, the cognitive differences between the two groups were apparent. The patients who had only listened to the songs showed absolutely no sign of cognitive improvement when given cognitive and drawing tests. Those who sang along, however, showed marked improvements when tested.

The study suggests that singing can help enhance cognitive functions, even in patients with moderate to severe dementia. Researchers involved are encouraging long term care facilities to consider the results of the study when arranging activities for dementia patients. Group singing classes are not only inexpensive but can be extremely beneficial.

Flinn went on to explain her takeaway from the study: “Even when people are in the fairly advanced stages of dementia, when it is so advanced they are in a secure ward, singing sessions were still helpful. The message is: don’t give up on these people.”

You can read the official study abstract here.

A Growing Problem

The incidence of Alzheimer’s and dementia is expected to triple by the year 2050 and learning the different ways to help prevent dementia and ease the symptoms can help health care providers and individuals better decrease their risk. Read more about the prevalence of Alzheimer’s and dementia in Texas and the importance of reporting symptoms as early as possible.