Quote from the Expert – Dr. Oliver Sacks

“When I work at the hospital and in all these old age homes where I also work, there are a lot of people who have Alzheimer’s or dementia of one sort or another. Some of them are confused, some are agitated, some are lethargic, some have almost lost language, but all of them, without exception, respond to music, especially to old songs and songs they’ve once known. And these seem to touch springs of memory and emotion, which may be completely inaccessible to them. And it’s most amazing to see people who are out of it, and suddenly respond to a music therapist, and to a familiar song, and first they will smile and then perhaps start to keep time, and then they will join in and sort of regain that part that time of their lives and that identity they had when they first heard the song. So it says almost an amazing thing to see, and of course, to experience. And this sort of lucidity and pleasure can last for hours afterwards.”

“…A common thing in Alzheimer’s is to lose one’s memory for events and really to lose one’s autobiography, to lose one’s personal memories. And they can’t be accessed directly, but personal memories are embedded to some extent in things like music and especially in songs which one knew, or which one learned and especially songs once sung. And so the past which is not recoverable in any other way could–it’s sort of embedded as if an ember in the music and people can regain a sense of identity, at least for a while.”

“…One doesn’t have to be especially music to respond to music, to recognize music, to react to music emotionally, and virtually everyone does, and they will continue to do so despite severe dementia. And in severe dementia, one may have lost the power of language and may lose most of one’s event memories so one can remember very little of one’s past, but one will always remember songs one has heard and sung, and familiar music. And the parts of the brain which respond to music are very close to the parts of the brain concerned with memory, emotion, and mood. And the familiar songs will bring back memories which perhaps when the music was originally heard, that it was outing, or the kids were there, and all this which has been lost in amnesia will come back and can be embedded in a familiar song. It can come back, so really, I mean basically in amnesia, whether or not it’s with Alzheimer’s, you lose your life. You’ve lost your past, you’ve lost your story, you’ve lost your identity to a considerable extent. And you can at last get some feeling of it and regain it for a little while with familiar music.”

-Oliver Sacks MD, Musicophilia