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Music and the senior brain: how singing can benefit those with memory loss

Singing and the senior brain

A quick quiz:


  1. What did you have for lunch on Tuesday 25th April 2017?
  2. What is the first line of The Beatles song “Yesterday”?
  3. Hum the theme tune to the TV series “The Lone Ranger”
Singing group for dementia help

Chances are, it was pretty easy to answer questions two and three, question one much less so. You may have even sung the first line of The Beatles’ song to help you remember the words. (We did!)


You are not alone. Your ability to recall a pop song first recorded over 40 years ago is due to the brain’s ability to recall songs and music even when more recent memories are much harder to bring to mind.

Singing and memory impairment

That’s why singing is such a great activity for those with memory impairment and partial loss as a result of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.


  • Well-loved songs can evoke memories both verbal and emotional
  • The act of recalling memories helps restore a sense of self
  • They gain confidence that they can remember the songs - and control that memory by singing them
  • A high level of concentration is involved in singing, and harmony and rounds singing in particular keeps this skill refreshed
  • The social interaction of singing in a group is highly beneficial

Singing as physical exercise

Singing is also very good exercise, offering physical benefits including:


  • Opening up the throat
  • Strengthening the speaking voice
  • Increasing lung capacity
  • Increasing blood flow to the brain
  • Relaxation of neck and shoulder muscles
  • Better posture and breathing technique
  • Gentle cardiovascular / aerobic exercise

Singing at The Manor Village

At The Manor Village at Scottsdale, there are times when our hallways are literally alive with the sound of music!


  • Every week, professional musicians and entertainers delight our Residents with favorite music and songs
  • We screen classic movies including musicals, that set toes tapping and musical memories flowing
  • We feature the music of popular artists every month as part of our Mosaic lifestyle enrichment programme

Music, singing and Alzheimer’s

The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America recognises the role of music in helping those with memory impairment:


“When used appropriately, music can shift mood, manage stress-induced agitation, stimulate positive interactions, facilitate cognitive function, and coordinate motor movements.”


There have been numerous studies showing the beneficial effect of music on those affected by Alzheimer’s disease. A recent US study (1) showed that group singing significantly improved the cognitive skills of those with moderate to severe dementia. The report's lead author Linda Maguire commented that:


“Musical aptitude and music appreciation are two of the last remaining abilities in patients with Alzheimer’s Disease.”


Interestingly, it was the taking part that was important. Those in the study who just listened to music did not perform as well as those who actively took part. In terms of singing, songs that evoked the best response tended to be from the person’s early adult years, from 18 to 25.

Keep it bright and positive

In an interview in The Epoch Times, Ms Maguire listed the top popular songs that she features in her programme (and we bet you know them all):


  • When You Wish Upon a Star
  • Somewhere Over the Rainbow
  • The Sound of Music

We’d add these evergreen songs which our Residents enjoy singing along with too:


  • You are my Sunshine
  • Singing in the Rain
  • Amazing Grace

Hear The Manor Village Scottsdale for yourself!

If you are looking for a caring, stimulating and engaging senior living community for yourself or a parent, call us. We’ll happily show you around our elegant retirement community here in Scottsdale; just book your personalized tour in advance. You can ask any questions you wish, and if you do feel like joining in any singing you hear, feel free!

(1) J Am Geriatr Soc. 2015 Apr;63(4):815-6. doi: 10.1111/jgs.13366. Participation in active singing leads to cognitive improvements in individuals with dementia. Maguire LE1, Wanschura PB, Battaglia MM, Howell SN, Flinn JM.