Music – memory's magic key
The mind’s connection with music is primal. Music has strong connections to memory, so what is it about music that opens the door to recollection when at other times that door remains stubbornly locked?
The recent viral video of a ballerina in her nineties with dementia “returning to life” when music is played to her is incredibly moving, demonstrating eloquently the power of music to connect with our deepest selves. The video has obviously resonated deeply - it has been seen over 2 million times in a month.
The ballerina featured in the video (which you can also see in the link at the end of this article), Marta Cinta Gonzalez Saldaña, was given headphones to listen to the music from SWAN LAKE, a ballet in which she had performed the lead many times as a younger woman.
She gestures to the assistant to increase the volume of the music and suddenly - unexpectedly - she is connected with her true self. Her facial expression and upper body movements are evidence that a direct link has been established between the woman and her earlier, authentic self. It is a profoundly moving scene which reminds us of the priceless value of memory, and how memory is fundamental to who we are.
The devastation to our loved ones from Alzheimer’s, dementia and other memory-related declines are catastrophes to so many people, not just the person affected. We see our beloved friend or family member “slipping away”, and there appears little we can do about it. An “invisible wall” is as distressing to those locked in as to those locked out. Advances in neuroscience are gradually bringing pieces of evidence to light about this cruellest of diseases, but always too slowly for those suffering right now. We should remember that there are sometimes contributing factors too. An event occurs which triggers a decline, perhaps physical - maybe a fall, bringing with it less movement, consequently muscles decline in content and ability - and the path for decline is set. This is why activity and movement is especially important for people in later life.
But why should music have such power? From the earliest stages of an embryo’s development, sound is one of the first sensual experiences the unborn child encounters, and so those neural pathways are amongst the earliest created and reinforced. The most primal sound, the rhythm of heartbeat, may be the very first aural experience the embryo reacts to, and aligns with. When born, the baby’s attempts at sound making are all attempts at communication, and music, in the form of nursery rhymes and lullabies, are connected sounds that babies hear again and again, deeply ingraining the neural pathways regarding sound and its effect upon us. Our brain’s natural, constant search for pattern is rewarded richly in the stream of musical notes and their pitch, flow and cadence. Music has an elemental power to connect with our souls and minds.
This video is proof positive that everything that we see, feel and experience throughout our lives doesn’t disappear or fade away at the onset of memory-related disease – it doesn’t go away; It’s all still “in us”. It just needs new pathways to be forged with professional help, so that the individual is empowered to negotiate the unfamiliar terrain in their own minds. We need to pull some of the bricks from that “invisible wall” and build bridges with them.
We need to understand that all memory-decline diseases affect the conscious mind only. We must also be acutely aware that emotion is the language of the subconscious, whereas logic is the language of the conscious mind. Further, we must remember that the subconscious is 90% or more of our brain, whereas the conscious is just 10%, or less. In our minds, whenever there is a battle between emotion and logic, emotion always wins.
Healthcare professionals can focus their work upon what’s still working to achieve results. The emotional framework is still intact and this is what’s used to reconnect to the memory systems which are losing their connectivity.
Music activates a memory that is attached to emotions and wonderful feelings which transport that person back to that original moment. Here, it’s important to understand that the mind doesn’t recognise past or future, it only recognises the present. So our mind only responds in present time. It doesn’t matter how old the memory is, when you are experiencing it the body is making those chemicals associated with that memory right now all over again. So you are responding to thought alone. If the thought is happy, you’ll feel great. And, sadly, vice-versa.
In the video you can see that this lady has been transported. She is responding to a memory from the past in the present and at that moment, it is new again. It’s a thought from the past but she is experiencing it right now.
You can try this yourself. Recall one of your happiest memories, like your wedding day, the birth of your children - or whatever in your past has brought you most joy. Now try to be aware of how you are feeling in the present moment and how your body is responding. Your mind is making those chemicals all over again – right now.
So we can see that there are opportunities here to work with the subconscious when the conscious fails us.
As it also deals with the subconscious, Rapid Transformational Therapy can play a positive role too. From reported experience in two separate cases, a parent of one of my colleagues developed some cognitive decline. With the application of RTT, and the elimination of underlying issues, they each significantly regained their mobility as well as the ability to speak and sing. The subjects’ feelings are reportedly now much more positive than previously, and as a result they are more engaged rather than withdrawn. This suggests that people with cognitive decline may well be able to slow their decline significantly, in conjunction with their recommended medication and professional care.
Aside from comprehensively following medical advice, what can we do to help our loved ones? We can find out what that person responds to and then stimulate them by focusing on those areas. It could be anything, so it’s important to try as many different areas as possible. Touch, music, movement, drawing, or many others - and just keep exploring. Keep returning to areas which trigger a response as this will stimulate the existing neural pathway connections as well as creating new ones. It absolutely takes effort, but by putting in the work you are more likely to reap the rewards.
It’s also helpful to remember the importance of diet to those with memory decline issues. The brain is comprised of about 60% fat, which sounds alarming - but this is healthy fat which is vital for brain and overall body health and helps stabilize the cell walls in the brain. It can also reduce inflammation and helps the immune system function properly. We can help the brain by feeding it fish oils (or plant based oils with Omega 3 and 6), Zinc and Vitamin B and Magnesium, nature’s own relaxant – as well as a healthy well-balanced diet rich in colourful fruit and vegetables.
While nothing is guaranteed in this area of health, the important thing to remember is that there is hope. With an holistic approach, utilising all the tools available in a personally-tailored program, we can make a significant contribution to that person's wellbeing. Let’s all do what we can to support the acquisition of further knowledge in the hope that future generations will have more tools at their disposal to fight back against all kinds of memory loss issues. It’s important to recognise the many dedicated specialists working in this field, as well as The Alzheimer’s Society and many other pioneering organisations who are at the forefront of the fight to keep our loved ones; let's all try to support them whenever we are able to.
Meanwhile, let’s all make time to enjoy our favourite music, knowing that it is actually doing us good- and let’s all keep moving!
BALLERINA RELIVES SWAN LAKE
READ MORE ABOUT THE ORGANISATION WHICH CREATED THIS PROGRAM, MUSICA PARA DESPERTAR
Juan Carlos is a therapist and author with over 22 years' experience as a diagnostic scientist.
All blog entries are Copyright ©2019-2023 Juan Carlos Gouveia, All Rights Reserved.
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