Share this article

print logo

Linda Militello: Music helps bring memories to life

It is difficult to choose a favorite song when hundreds of songs have filled our lives. For now, pick one that you love for a special reason. Write down the title and include it with your health care proxy directives. Why?

Have you ever forgotten anything? TV commercials, print media and the Internet assail us with ways to retain our memory – eat certain foods, exercise, make life changes. But few of us know about the extensive neuroscience research into music and memory. Music can restore your spirit and awaken moments in your life that have become inexpressible.

Memories connect us to each other and to the world. Music solidifies memories. Sing the ABCs and they are yours for life. Scientists know that facts set to music are easily learned, retained longer and more likely to be retrieved.

My oldest musically attached memory is clear. My grandfather is holding me and singing ”A Bushel And A Peck” or “Oh, You Beautiful Doll.” Whenever I hear Paul Anka’s, “Put Your Head On My Shoulder,” I am dancing my first slow dance with a classmate at his birthday party on Feb. 27, 1963.

Think of stored memories as files on your computer. Memories organized in folders named childhood, school, family, etc., are easier to access. If you can’t recall the name of the file, how can you open it? Working, active memory – who you are, where you are, what you do and why you do it – is the link to all memories. If working memory decreases, music enhances retrieval of stored memories.

Memory and music are so profoundly intertwined that individuals who have not communicated in years will respond and communicate through music. “Alive Inside: A Story Of Music And Memory” emotionally and scientifically exemplifies that some memories are not lost, but simply wait to be revived.

My husband, Frank, and I attended a viewing of “Alive Inside,” which was coordinated by occupational therapists from the University at Buffalo. In the film, renowned neurologist Dr. Oliver Saks emphasizes the therapeutic value of music. He cites examples where individually targeted music triggered activity in despondent individuals. Music provides an outlet for all emotions. It is a simple way to individualize care.

After the film, a panel of experts who deal with memory-impaired individuals and their caregivers encouraged the 200-plus attendees to provide individualized music therapy to anyone who has difficulty communicating. One volunteer, Dan Cohen, a retired social worker, started asking nursing home patients to name their favorite song. The inspirational results led to the production of this film and the development of the nonprofit organization, musicandmemory.org.

My family has communicated through music for 42 years. Singing to my children soothed, delighted and enhanced daily activities. On seemingly endless road trips, we sang to ease boredom, elicit joy and quell sibling disagreements. Frank has profound memory loss, but he remembers every song he has ever heard. Music calms or energizes him as needed and brings other memories to life.

Health insurance reimburses medication prescribed to change various behaviors. What if we knew what music would validate the emotions of a memory-impaired person that could reduce unwanted behavior? Write down the name of a revitalizing and memory-restorative song and include the note with other vital paperwork.