Radio review: Using music to trigger memories

Nuala McCann

Where words fail, music speaks BBC Sounds

The music “memory bump” is a new one to me.

It's that period of time when music was most vivid in your life – that is often between the ages of 18 and 30.

Scroll back and the music and the songs evoke all sorts of memories of first love, adventure or marriage and babies.

But you could understand its effects – take the woman with a strong Scottish burr listening to Lionel Richie's “All Night Long”.

“We'd go to the pub and maybe end up dancing on the tables and we were supposed to be at college learning hair dressing,” she laughed.

This was a fascinating programme about how powerful music is for people with dementia.

“Where words fail, music speaks” are the words of writer Hans Christian Anderson.

What presenter Emer Maguire explained is that while you can't have a musical therapist on tap, you can have a playlist that triggers memories.

Musical playlists can even reduce the need for medication.

When a person with dementia loses part of their cognitive thinking, music can be a way of providing pleasure at the end stages.

The person with dementia cannot say hello and use the name of their partner, but if the first phrase of a song is sung to them – as if by magic - they can sing it all the way through.

There are no drugs that can cure dementia but music can help.

Maguire - a speech and language therapist, a singer and a musician - delved deep into her subject – talking to people with dementia and to experts.

There was plenty of evocative music along the way.

For Maguire herself, Neil Diamond's Forever in blue Jeans is a bit of a memory bump... it was the first CD her family had and it was played on a loop in the car.

These days, GPs can prescribe music as part of a care plan. Delilah, the Hokey Cokey, Sweet Caroline - these are all very popular... when words fail. Open up BBC Music Memories and discover the joy it can trigger.

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