Amazingly, one of the last portions of the brain consumed by Alzheimer’s is the medial prefrontal cortex, located behind the eyes and inside the frontal lobe region of the brain. The MPFC (medial prefrontal cortex) also happens to be the area activated when familiar repertoire or songs are presented, allowing even the most advanced dementia patients an opportunity to associate music with memories and bridge the gap.
A February 2009 report from the University of California - Davis confirms a small glimpse of the impact music has inside the brain. Award winning neurologist Dr. Petr Janata notes:
"What seems to happen is that a piece of familiar music serves as a soundtrack for a mental movie that starts playing in our head. It calls back memories of a particular person or place, and you might all of a sudden see that person's face in your mind's eye," Janata said. "Now we can see the association between those two things – the music and the memories."
Janata’s subjects listened to 30 random tunes through headphones in the “top 100” from the time frame each subject would have been 8 to 18 years old, all while brain activity was recorded using an fMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging). Activation of the region was strongest when the song evoked a specific memory or emotion. This study confirms why Alzheimer’s patients can sing along to tunes from their youth when other memories and even the people sitting beside them are unknown.
Incredible and unbelievable videos have made their way around social media of dementia patients sitting down at their instrument of choice (typically piano) to play repertoire near perfection. How is it possible for one whose brain is no longer capable of firing complex synapse functions able to perform such an intricate set of skills?
Dr. Gottfried Schlaug with Harvard Medical School studied how musician’s brains are different from the rest, finding that musicians have an unusually thick bundle of nerves connecting the left and right sides of the brain. Recently, his focus has turned to watching children’s brain development beginning at age 6 when first learning an instrument. Analysis after 15 months, then again at 30 months of training revealed these young musicians developed more complex connections between different brain regions and elaborate auditory and motor systems than children who did not play an instrument: “When you make music, it engages many different areas of the brain, including visual, auditory and motor areas. That’s why music-making is also of potential interest in treating neurologic disorders.”
Dr. Shlaug further explored how music making may help adults regain speaking ability after a stroke. When strokes damage the speaking area of the brain, some patients may be able to sing the words instead; this is another reason why music therapy (specifically music intonation therapy) is on the rise where patients learn to sing and mimic rhythms for simple songs. In time, different regions of the brain take over speaking functions.
My friends, music has such great healing power. This month at Thanksgiving I am genuinely grateful as always for my family, friends, and loved ones, but I would never have found true happiness in this life without the healing power of music. How many times have you found solace in music when nothing else could explain your thoughts, feelings, or what you were going through in your darkest hours? … Like me, I’m sure you have lost track of that number.
In this month of advocacy for such an important cause, I’d like you to watch a trailer for one of the most important documentaries of our lifetime. Alive Inside made its’ debut at the Sundance Film Festival in 2014 and received a standing ovation, capturing the Audience Award. As expected, it has now been released in several continents with the purpose of educating viewers on how music evokes lucidity and sends a heartwarming message of hope. Please take a look at this amazing clip or make your purchase on Amazon today – I promise it will change your life!
Watch it here: http://www.aliveinside.us/#trailer
Buy it here: http://www.amazon.com/Alive-Inside-Blu-ray-Dan-Cohen/dp/B00P80W9E2