Music and Memory

My mother’s husband has Alzheimer’s Disease. He is a lovely, lovely man and it has been incredibly difficult to see him and my mom go to battle (basically unarmed) against this absolutely devastating disease.  My mother has published a wonderful photography book about their journey and also writes a blog, the focus of which is often Alzheimer’s related. I have learned a lot over the past decade about Alzheimer’s, the brain, and memory.  One of the most interesting things that I’ve learned recently is that music is often one of the last ways possible to connect with someone who is in the latter stages of the disease. This article offers great insight into why that is.

I have to say that while I find the music/memory connection to be interesting, especially as it pertains to Alzheimer’s disease, I do not find it surprising.  Just today, I put on the Echo and the Bunnymen station on Pandora.com and was immediately transported back to Athens, Georgia circa 1986. Crazy how quickly that can happen. I don’t always enjoy taking the musical journey back in time.  Sometimes, the memories that come flooding back make me feel melancholy–or just plain old. Often though, I wind up with a spring in my step or some new clarity on an issue that previously had left me baffled. The majority of the time, I end up thinking of someone who I haven’t thought of in years or of an event that until that moment had been buried in the recesses of my memory-stuffed mind.  I wonder why our brains associate music so closely with memory? I know it can happen with smell as well, but for me, it is much more common with music.

Alzheimer’s is awful. There is no cure and honestly, not enough is being done to find one.  I am grateful that my mom and people like her are trying to do something about that.  In the meantime, I am also grateful that for people like her husband there is a music/memory connection, and I hope that connection makes their lives a tiny bit more bearable.

My husband and I named our son, in part, after Ian McCulloch, the lead singer of Echo and the Bunnymen, so in honor of that particular memory I am sharing this video.

How strongly do you associate memory and music?

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4 responses

  1. Hi, Jennifer,
    I enjoyed reading your blog. I’m sorry to hear about your step dad’s battle with alzheimer’s. My dad is in the early stages, but he’s still fairly lucid compared to other friends’ parents who I know who also battle this devastating disease.

    On the lighter side, I have also been pondering the connection between music and memory and am often “transported” back to happier times when I hear tunes from my younger years. I absolutely love that you and Rik named Ian for Ian McCullough-who Isabella and I met once when she was a baby-of course she was only a few months ago and I’ll have to dig up the photo to show you sometime. I have been a big fan of E&TB since the mid eighties.

    Keep up the blogging and I’ll keep enjoying your crafty words.

    enjoy the lovely weather!!

    • Thanks for the kind words Lee Anne. I am sorry to hear that your dad is also living with Alzheimer’s. For my mom’s husband, up to this point, the progression had been very slow and that was such a blessing! They got to spend many extra years together that others facing this disease are not as fortunate to have. I hope your dad will be similarly fortunate.

      I’d love to see the photo of Bella and Ian McCullough! I hope one day our kids realize just how cool their mom’s are! 😉

  2. I’ve been wanting to write about the disease since a family friend went through it. I’ll certainly take a look at your mom’s blog. Thanks for sharing.

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