Brain Health and Music
The Global Council on Brain Health (GCBH) is an independent collaborative of scientists, health professionals, scholars, and policy experts from around the world who are working in areas of brain health related to human cognition. The GCBH focuses on brain health relating to people’s ability to think and reason as they age, including aspects of memory, perception, and judgment.
In a recent report, the GCBH focused on useful information for men and women age 50-plus, adults in different stages of health, and caregivers as it relates to music. Music’s effects on the brain start in infancy, and much of their discussion applies to people of all ages.
The recommendations are based on the best available evidence to date, coming from observational studies and randomized controlled trials, as well as reviews of the literature published in peer-reviewed journals.
Music is enjoyed by people of all ages around the world. Song and rhythm are a universal language that bridges cultures and dates to ancient times. A vulture-bone flute found inside a cave in Europe is thought to be over 40,000 years old. Greek philosophers mused about the healing effects of music on the body and soul.
You don’t need to be a scientist to know that music can engage us physically and emotionally. The right song might prompt you to tap your toes or snap your fingers. It might inspire you to hum or sing or get up and dance. Music can spark memories from many years in the past – bringing back sights, smells and feelings from when we first heard the song that is now blasting through a wireless speaker.
For many people, music is a great pleasure that brings well-being and happiness. It can encourage a sense of calm and fight depression. It can stimulate social bonding.
These remarkable properties arise from music’s capacity to engage many different areas of the brain in a coordinated fashion in real-time. Science has shown that music stimulates different areas of the brain, which influence how we experience music in our thoughts and feelings. Researchers have also developed evidence that music enables different parts of the brain to operate in sync, bringing further dimensions to the experience.
Health science research suggests that music can enhance a sense of well-being, reduce stress, facilitate interpersonal connections, modulate the cardiovascular system, improve balance, and boost the immune system. And from a risk-benefit perspective, music can help achieve these health benefits without any of the adverse effects that are sometimes associated with drug treatment. So, in addition to providing fun and pleasure, music has the advantage of being a safe and inexpensive health booster.
Intriguingly, research shows that memories of music are durable over years and can often remain intact, even in cases of dementia in advanced Alzheimer’s Disease when other memories are beyond reach.
Music-based treatments are being used in therapy for dementia, where it has been shown to help reduce stress, promote morale, and encourage interpersonal connections. Music-making is also being used in motor therapies for people who experience a stroke, where it has helped people regain speech and control over their lives. .
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