It happens to all of us from time to time. We’re minding our own business, some music starts to play in the background, and then it hit us. The memories buried so deep, the ones we’ve completely forgotten, suddenly burst up.
How Does Music Trigger Long Lost Memories?
The way we remember things is governed by the hippocampus and the brain’s frontal cortex. These two parts of the brain controls memory. But while these two receive information painlessly every second, retrieving the information is a whole different story.
To retrieve the information stored in the brain, we need cues. And that’s what the music is for.
We can remember lyrics of a song because of how the words are paired with the tunes. The tunes and structure act as anchors and cues to make information retrieval easier for the brain.
Another way to explain why music can evoke vivid memories is by first understanding that the brain is a mystical forest of neural network.
A study by University of Newcastle in Australia, has shown that listening to music engages the networks responsible for emotions, creativity, and actions. When you listen to a familiar song, the brain tracks the tonal progression
“But wait, there’s more!”
Listening to music also triggers the brain to release dopamine, a neurotransmitter responsible for controlling our mood. This is why sometimes we can feel an emotion so strong when hearing a tune even though we can’t remember the lyrics.
The profound relation between music and memories opens new ways for music therapy.
Helping brain-injured patients, people affected by dementia, and those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease using music is now a thing. The Alzheimer Society of Niagara Region has been actively using music to help people with dementia.
People suffering from Alzheimer’s disease have their memories robbed from them due to the deterioration of the brain cells. However, it’s the explicit memory system that’s heavily affected. The implicit memory system, or the deeper part of memory, is more robust and remain preserved longer.
Music reaches deep inside the brain and trigger forgotten memories. Music takes people with dementia back in time to remember their childhood sweetheart. It also calms their nerves and helps them relax.
“So, what’s the take-home point here?”
If you have a loved one who suffers from dementia, sing a song that they loved in the past. Something that has strong emotional connection to them. You can also play some ambient music that they can relate. For instance, if the person enjoyed the beach and the sun, try some beach ambiance.