The effects of music on dementias and mental health

The effects of music on dementias and mental health

Without music, life would be a mistake. Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (German philosopher, poet, musician and philologist).

A fundamental aspect to initiate this issue is that we have not understood mental health in its fair dimension and complexity. A mental illness intuitively from the earliest times was related to a behavior different from the rest of the group and it was located somewhere in the body. But not only that, a cause was sought and some appropriate treatment was also practiced, according to the circumstances of the time and the social context.

The classification of mental illnesses has been a more recent chapter in the history of mankind and in everyday knowledge, everything that deviates from the conventional we put a label on “madness”. You got a screw, you say meaningless things, you went to the mountain goats, it seems that he escaped the manicure (referring to the metaphor of the asylum), you do not know what you say, you do not even recognize me, you go crazy . All of them refer to different symptoms of mental illness.

On the other hand, a popular saying says:Of musicians, poets and crazy people, we all have a little" And, music somehow, has been present in the evolution of man. Even before the word; Some theorists say.


  • 1 A brief tour of dementia
  • 2 Cortical Dementias
  • 3 Subcortical Dementias
  • 4 Global Dementias
  • 5 What is sound and music?
  • 6 Music and its influence on our mood
  • 7 Relationship between music mental illness
  • 8 Final reflection

A brief tour of dementia

Dementia is a syndrome or set of symptoms of organic and multiple origin, which leads to deficits; very diverse cognitive, motor, social and personality.

The word dementia comes from Latin from (what does it mean "far from") Y mens (what does it mean "mind”). Dementia is a cognitive impairment that implies widespread progressive deficiencies in areas such as memory, learning new information in the person, ability to communicate, judgment and motor coordination. In addition to experiencing cognitive changes, people with dementia suffer changes in their personality and emotional state (Halguin & Krauss, 2004).

Previously it was thought that older people could suffer, but it has been proven that it does not necessarily happen that way and we can all suffer from it. This clarification is important because dementia is incorrectly known as senile dementia. However, it is not a condition that occurs only in the elderly.

Dementia has an organic basis and groups different types of mental illnesses which are listed below:

Cortical Dementias


  • Development of multiple cognitive deficiency, manifested by:
  • Memory impairment (learn new information and evoke the one already learned), and
  • One or more of the following cognitive disorders:
    • Aphasia (trouble speaking): Aphasia is a disorder caused by lesions in the parts of the brain that control language (Broca and Wernicke's area). It can make reading, writing and expressing what you want to say difficult. It can be manifested in: expressive, receptive, anomic and global (MedPlus, 2017).
    • Apraxia (inability to execute coordinated movements without a physical cause): It is a disorder of the brain and nervous system in which a person is unable to carry out tasks or movements when requested, although: the order or order is understood, she is willing to carry out said task, Muscles needed to perform the task function properly, and the task has probably already been learned (MedlinePLus, 2017).
    • Agnosia (inability to recognize and identify sensory information): Disruption in the ability to recognize previously learned stimuli, or to learn new stimuli, without deficiency in perception, language or intellect (Wikipedia, 2017).

Alzheimer's it presents alteration of executive functions, a deterioration of the patient's previous abilities that causes significant difficulties in occupational and social functions. And, in more serious stages, a continuous cognitive deterioration.

Pick's disease

  • It is progressive degenerative and is relatively rare and affects the frontal and temporal lobes of the cerebral cortex. It is caused by the accumulation of deposits of unusual proteins called Pick bodies in neurons. In addition to having memory problems, people with this disorder become socially uninhibited, act inappropriately and impulsively (socially and sexually) or apathetic and unmotivated (Halguin & Krauss, 2004). The disease is characterized by early and slowly progressive changes of character and behavioral alterations, which evolve towards a deterioration of intelligence, of memory and language, accompanied by apathy, euphoria and, occasionally, extrapyramidal symptoms or signs (tremors, gait disturbances, etc.) (Gerontological Institute, 2017). A part of the patients have a tendency to joke (Witzelsucht) and easy laughter. "Witzelsucht", the curious disease of those who can not stop making jokes, usually very bad and almost always laugh at their own jokes, but not at those of others (Robson, 2016). Associated with a constant need for produce dopamine (the hormone of happiness).

Creutzfeldt disease - Jacob (Jacob)

  • It is a neurological condition that is believed to be caused by an infectious agent that results in abnormal accumulations of protein in the brain. Initial symptoms include fatigue, appetite disturbance, trouble sleeping and difficulty concentrating. As the disease progresses, the individual shows increasing signs of dementia and eventually dies. Underlying these symptoms is widespread damage known as spongiform encephalopathy, which means that large holes develop in brain tissue (Halguin & Krauss, 2004).

Lewy Body Dementia

  • There is progressive loss of memory, language, calculation and reasoning, as well as other higher mental functions. However, the disease progress may be faster than seen in the Alzheimer disease. Lewy bodies are tiny spherical structures that are deposits of protein and are found in the dying nerve cells inside the brain of people with Parkinson's disease. Lewy body dementia is diagnosed when Lewy bodies are found more diffusely scattered throughout the brain (Halguin & Krauss, 2004).

These four variations of dementia have in common aphaso-apraxo-agnosic syndrome, which means that the patient: has trouble speaking, inability to perform physical movements without apparent cause, and inability to recognize and identify everyday objects (toothbrush, glasses, forks, spoons, etc.).

Subcortical Dementias


  • It involves neuronal degeneration of the basal ganglia, the subcortical structures that control motor movements. Disease Parkinson It is usually progressive, the most notable feature is the suffering of several motor disturbances. At rest, the person's hands, ankles, or head may shake involuntarily. The person's muscles become stiff and it is difficult for them to initiate movement, a symptom called akinesia. There is also a general decrease in motor activity known as bradykinesia, as well as a loss of fine motor coordination. For example, some people with Parkinson's disease walk quite slowly and drag their feet; They have difficulty stopping. The individual's face also seems inexpressive and speech becomes unnatural, losing its normal rhythmic quality. They have difficulty producing words in tests that demand verbal fluency. However, many cognitive functions, such as attention, concentration and immediate memory remain intact (Halguin & Krauss, 2004).

Huntington's disease

  • Is a degenerative neurological disorder that can also affect personality and cognitive functioning. Huntington's disease is a genetic condition that involves abnormality on chromosome 4 that causes a protein known as Huntington to accumulate and reach toxic levels. The disease involves the death of neurons in subcortical motor control structures, as well as the decrease in AGAB, acetylcholine and substance P neurotransmitters. The disease is associated with mood disturbances, personality changes, irritability and explosiveness, suicidal tendencies, changes in sexuality and a range of specific cognitive deficits (Halguin & Krauss, 2004).

They present a decrease in higher functions (attention, perception, memory, thought and language) and motivation.

Global Dementias

Vascular Dementia

Vascular dementia is caused by a series of small vascular strokes (strokes) over a prolonged period of time (MedlinePlus, 2017). It is associated with ischemia or deficiency of blood flow or venous blockages at the brain level causing the death of neurons in the affected area.

Preliminary symptoms of dementia may include:

  • Difficulty performing tasks that used to be easy, such as keeping a checkbook balance, participating in games (such as bridge) and learn new information or routines
  • Get lost on family routes
  • Language problems, such as having difficulty remembering the name of familiar objects
  • Losing interest in previously enjoyed activities, indifferent mood
  • Lost items
  • Personality changes and loss of social skills (MedlinePlus, 2017).

The crazy people open the paths that the wise men later travel. Carlo Dossi (1849-1910) Italian writer.

What is sound and music?

The process by which we feel something has several facets: the reception of the external signal that excites the corresponding sense organ; the transformation of information into a nerve signal; the transport and modification that this signal undergoes to finally reach the brain and give us the feeling of having felt something. The sense organs are what in engineering are called transducers, that is, transformers of certain signals, physical or chemical, in electrical signals that are what transmit our nerves (Braun, 2011).

The main objective of the sense organs is to gather information about the environment around us and to live and survive with the environment. The ear has its support in mechanical deformations, it records sound waves formed by variations in air density as described below and by the deformation it produces in some membranes.

The ear is also the sense of balance and is divided into three parts:

External ear

It is an outer wing, the pavilion, which is a visible part. Next is the opening of the ear canal. At its outer end it is cartilaginous, while inside it is more bony and has a skin that secretes a waxy substance, the match.

Middle ear

The middle ear or eardrum is a small cavity that is located in the temporal bone. It is separated from the ear canal through the tympanic membrane. In the cavity there are three small bones: the hammer, the anvil and the stirrup, articulated with each other and held by different ligaments. The tympanic cavity is full of air. At the bottom comes a very narrow channel, the so-called Eustachian tube.

Inner ear

The inner part of the ear, also called the labyrinth, is separated from the middle part by the oval window. In the upper part is the labyrinth itself and in the lower part there is an appendix, the snail, which is screwed twice and a half. The upper part of the inner ear, the labyrinth, is formed by semicircular canals and a vestibule. These organs are related to the balance of the body, while the other part, the snail, is what serves the hearing (Braun, 2011).

When an object is hit, pressed or torn like a tense rope, for example; It vibrates, but why don't we hear anything? Because we lack a medium that conducts the sound, as for example; the air. How surely you know the air is composed of molecules of nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide, water vapor, argon and other substances. When the object vibrates (string) pushes nearby molecules, they in turn press those that are next to them and so on. This movement is called a sound wave and in the air it travels at 340 meters per second. (depending on air conditions). Note that the traveling ones are the waves, not the air particles. If there is an ear nearby, these waves make the eardrum vibrate, which in turn moves the hammer that waves the anvil, which passes its energy through the stirrup to the snail, which converts the vibrations into nerve signals, which are transmitted through the auditory nerve to the primary auditory cortex of the brain, where sound perception is performed (Curiously, 2016).

If the object vibrates faster with a shorter string, the wave has a higher frequency and we perceive it as a louder sound. When we make music we have to take into account the rhythm (force or movement formed by a certain succession of sounds), the volume (high or low), and the timbre (the same sound that comes from a different instrument) of the sounds, but The element we recognize most is: the melody.

Music can change the world because it can change people. Paul David Hewson, better known by his stage name Bono (Irish musician and vocalist of the rock group U2).

Music and its influence on our mood

The musical rhythm influences the mood. A fast pace encourages a fast and euphoric movement. While a leisurely pace facilitates relaxation.

The melody can be defined as the set of sounds that, when grouped in a certain way, can be transformed into a pleasant sound in the ear of the listener (, 2014).

When you hear a melody you have different reactions, it is a subjective action and what for some is a pleasant sound for others not. Ugly music for some would be delightful and for others not and vice versa. Fortunately it is something subjective and relative in each person. What moves some paralyzes and irritates others.

Human beings live with music at all times.

It is an art that makes us enjoy pleasant times, it stimulates us to remember events of the past, it makes us share emotions in group songs, concerts or sports stands (Manes, 2015).

Music accompanies us throughout life; From childhood to adulthood, music is with us and somehow also part of our identity. Our musical taste reflects: individuality, belonging or not to a social group, culture, country, historical era of belonging or taste for that time, customs, ideology, origins and even feeling projected in their Letters, because it is part of our life. Music is recorded in our most remote movements and of course in our emotional memory.

I have a question that sometimes tortures me: I'm crazy, or the crazy people are the others. Albert Einstein (1879-1955) German nationalized German scientist.

Relationship between music mental illness

Throughout the history of mankind, different therapeutic strategies have been used to seek the well-being or healing of patients. These have gone from the most cruel and inhuman to the most radical and sublime:

  • Healing by air (trepanation or perforation of the skull), fire (burning at the stake as in the inquisition), water (cold water baths and drowning), electricity, electrosocks, animal magnetism (Mesmerism), laying on of hands (Jesus of Nazareth ), whipping, kicking, chaining, bleeding (bleeding), frontal or lateral lobotomy (Egas Moniz) and transorbital lobotomy (Walter Freeman), medications (Thorazine), hypnosis (Freud and Charcot), masturbation, psychotherapy, transcranial magnetic stimulation, fields low frequency pulsating electromagnetic and music therapy, to name just a few.

The perception of the mentally ill has more of prejudice and ignorance than of realityThey have been seen as beasts, wild animals, lunatics, demons, degenerates, social aliens, human garbage. And, depending on the patient's vision and the context in which he lives, it has been practiced at the time.

Dementia and its different variants cause serious motor, cognitive alterations and affect the global identity of the sufferer, to the degree of not remembering Who is it? in the most extreme cases and this prevents them from even recognizing their closest loved ones and everyday objects, until they reach total disability.

Despite the devastation caused by this disease in the brain and, in particular, in memory, a large part of the patients retain their musical memories even in the later stages. The temporal lobe, the part of the brain that goes from the temple to the posterior area of ​​the ear is, among other things, the disco of humans. There our auditory memory is managed, songs included. Jörn-Henrik Jacobsen neuroscientist of the Max Planck Institute of Neuroscience and Human Cognition of Leipzig (Germany), claims to hear music and remember it (musical memory) are processed in brain areas that are not those that are usually associated with episodic memory, semantics or the autobiographical (Criado, 2015).

As a therapeutic strategy, the use of music therapy has high hopes for brain stimulation of patients with this condition, as it opens a gateway in neuronal plasticity to recover long-term stored memories that are part of their identity.

Music can connect people with who they have been with who they are and their lives. Because what happens when you get older is that all the things you know and your identity are forgotten, says Dan Cohen social worker and founder of the Music and Memory Association. Neurologist Oliver Sacks points out that: music is inseparable from emotions, not just a physiological stimulus. Music has more capacity to activate more parts of the brain than any other stimulus. (Rossato-Bennett, 2014).

There are several theories about this intimate coexistence with music in evolution. Some of these occurred because when studying the brain's response to music, the key areas that are involved are the control and execution of movements. One of the hypotheses postulates that this is the reason music was developed: to help us all move together. And the reason why this would have an evolutionary benefit is that when people move in unison, they tend to act more altruistically and be more united (Manes, 2015).

Listening to favorite music produces dopamine (pleasure hormone), as do sex, food and even drugs. The surprising thing is that we listen to music from the cradle and that reassures us. We have been in contact with a rudimentary music in our mother's heartbeat as well, which puts us in touch with the music since the beginning of life and is being stored in our brain materially since early times.

On the other hand, remember that in dementia one of the most impactful behaviors is the loss of short and long term memory. However, the reason that the brain of a patient with Alzheimer's can remember, music and lyrics of their favorite songs is that everyday memories and music are stored in different areas. In the most advanced cases of the disease, if the patient cannot pronounce words, the humming and in those who do not have or speak and are prostrated, even so, it produces slight movements. As the project of the social worker and founder of the Music and Memory Association, Dan Cohen, shows in the program “alive inside”Broadcast by the Netflix network.The key is to stimulate them with the music of your choice.

The health area uses music in order to improve, maintain or attempt to recover cognitive, physical, emotional and social functioning, and help slow the progress of different medical conditions. Music therapy, through the clinical use of music, seeks to activate physiological and emotional processes that stimulate diminished or impaired functions and enhance conventional treatments. Important results have been observed in patients with movement disorders, speech difficulties due to stroke, dementias, neurological disorders and in children with special abilities, among others. Music can be a powerful tool in the treatment of brain disorders and acquired injuries helping patients to recover linguistic and motor skills, since it activates almost all regions of the brain (Manes, 2015).

“The memories that last most are those that are linked to an intense and fair emotional experience the music with which it is most linked is with emotions and emotion is a door to memory"says the music therapist of the Alzheimer Spain Foundation, Fátima Pérez-Rob (Criado, 2015).

Final reflection

No one of us has purchased emotional health and, therefore, we are not guaranteed to suffer from any of the variants of dementia or other disabling mental illnesses. Therefore, it would be well worth leaving some testimony of our music library, with the songs that move us most, incite us to the movement or produce significant memories to stimulate our brain if necessary.

Drug therapy would not be the only alternative in the treatment of patients with dementia or mental illness.


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