The Musical Brain

Woody Geist started to show signs of Alzheimers at the age of 67. By the time he was 80, plaques had invaded large areas of his brain. His memory was so limited he could remember little about his life, and nothing about what to do with a tube of toothpaste.

All of which made it all the more remarkable that he could remember the baritone part to almost every song he had ever sung.

Woody Geist’s story, told by Oliver Sacks in his book Musicophilia, is not an isolated case. In most cases of dementia, regardless of whether or not people have had musical training, they retain their capacity to sing, play, whistle, tap, click, clap, drum and dance long after much of the rest of their cognitive apparatus is deeply compromised.

This is because music is deeply ingrained in the way our brains have developed. It connects several parts of the brain in ways which no other activity seems to do, and it engages our memory more powerfully than almost any other experience.

As our society ages and more people succumb to forms of dementia, one of the most effective responses will be to connect with them through music, to make it normal for people of all generations and states of awareness to make music together.

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