Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Sing...Sing a Song -- It's Great for the Brain

Gus Mezza and A.J. sing during music therapy at Glenner South Bay
And don't worry that it's not good enough for anyone else to hear, but it is still good for your brain.

Turns out, according to a new study, that singing show tunes in particular has been shown to benefit those experiencing dementia, and particularly Alzheimer's disease. At an East Coast senior living facility, residents spent four months in singalongs and those that sang their favorite songs  showed a marked improvement in brain function compared to those who just listened.

"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," Janet Flinn, one of the researchers at George Mason University, said in a published report. "The message is: don't give up on these people. You need to be doing things that engage them, and singing is cheap, easy and engaging."

We at Glenner know the power of music very well and especially the joy and cognitive benefits of signing old standards as a group. Some of our family caregivers are amazed at how their spouse or parent comes alive when singing along to "Paper Moon" or "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."

In the Virginia university study, the songs included tunes from Oklahoma, The Sound of Music and The Wizard of Oz -- songs that typically young and old can sing together. The two groups included in the study were residents of an assisted living with moderate dementia and those in a memory care unit with more severe symptoms.

Each participant took cognitive tests given before and after the four months of singing classes. Those who joined in the singing also did better at drawing the hands on a clock face to show a particular time. And despite the memory loss associated with dementia, the patients typically remembered the lyrics to songs from their past. Flinn said at a recent gathering in San Diego that singing sessions involve numerous sensations that activitate different parts of the brain on both the left and right sides. 

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