Most of us know the feeling of listening to an old favourite song that transports us back in time.
Every time I hear “Sun” by Two Door Cinema Club, I am back in my first-year bedroom, packing a bag for the first beach day of the year with my new friends. I can smell the sun cream, taste the strawberries, remember the games we played, everything. All from one song. And it always, undoubtedly, makes me feel happy – a nostalgic kind of happy – but happy nonetheless, because it is not just the memories that these songs evoke, but the emotions we were feeling at those times as well.
It is no surprise then, that recent years studies have shown that the link between music and memory can have a therapeutic effect on those suffering with dementia and Alzheimer’s, the elderly, and those suffering with mental health issues, such as depression.
Music & Memory, a company founded in 2018, are well aware of this link. They found, when tapping into deep musical favourites of dementia patients, participants were brought back to life, not only in the moment of hearing the music, but later becoming more sociable and increasingly able to remain present after the therapy. These ideas are supported by an article published in The Journal of Prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease in 2018, which reported that musical information is stored in a part of the brain that is not affected by the illness, therefore “personally meaningful music is an alternative route for communicating with patients who have Alzheimer’s disease”, making it more possible to manage emotional distress in patients.
According to BBC Culture writer, Tiffany Jenkins, those songs that seem to stick in our heads and evoke memories will most likely be from the pop and rock genres, as the musicians’ uses of rhythm, rhyme and sometimes alliteration are easier to recall, and thus help unlock informational cues within the brain.
However, these ‘personally meaningful’ songs will also most often be from our younger years, namely our teenage years and our twenties. This may not be surprising when we consider the classic favourites of our parents and grandparents, often grounded in the years of their youth despite the abundance of new releases in the charts. One possible reason for this is because these years are some of the most important in our lives; they are the years of our firsts, and the years when we become more independent.
These findings are not the first to promote the power of music, having already been proven to improve our moods and cognitive performance, reduce stress and help manage pain, to name a few.
Undoubtedly, music connects us – to strangers, friends, places, and times in our lives – whether they be good or bad. It can make us cry as we grieve a relationship or lost loved one, and it can make us want to get up and dance and smile at everybody we meet. Music is certainly a force to be reckoned with, and whilst it may not be the cure, it can certainly help heal and support us during the times we need it most.
So, break out that Christmas playlist and get listening, as this year, more than ever, we deserve it.
– Molly Rymer
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