Music as Treatment for Neurodegenerative disease:
The number of people in the UK with some form of Dementia is fast approaching 1 million; evidently we need to explore as many treatment pathways as possible. Alzheimer’s is one of the most common. Plaques composed of beta-amyloid (a protein that is sticky in substance, found in the brain) and tangles, which are decomposed Tau proteins increase within the brain, to such an extent that they inhibit signalling between synapses, which is what subsequently causing the symptoms of memory loss, and agitation, for example.
Typically, it is thought that there are ‘three dominant groups of symptoms in dementia,’ (Spiro, 2010), all have which have shown responsiveness to musical treatment; ‘memory (particularly autobiographical memory) and language retention; mood and depressions; and aggression and agitation,’ (Spiro, 2010). The link between music and language as suggested by Spiro, is very interesting, and could provide answers as to why music seems to have such a substantial effect upon the brain. ‘Over 2000 years ago, Plato claimed that the power of certain musical modes to uplift the spirit stemmed from their resemblance to the sounds of noble speech,’ (Patel, 2008). It is entirely true that a rousing piece of music can provide one with the similar effect of having heard a particularly motivating speech. In our more recent history, Darwin ‘considered how a form of communication intermediate between modern language and music may have been the origin of our species’ communicative abilities,’ (Patel, 2008). Due to the multi-faceted nature of regions of the brain, it is evident that features of language and music will overlap. This knowledge is vastly important; pertaining to therapeutic properties of music as a result of its confabulation with our basic tool for expression. Equally, this implies that perhaps music could be employed to ‘exercise’ areas of the brain that we know to also be important in language processing, and thus, we could help to maintain linguistic function and memory of vocabulary in those suffering from types of Dementia. If research were conducted and success found in this area, it could not only revolutionise the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, but drastically improve the quality of life for not only sufferers, but for their loved ones and carers.
‘We’ll Meet Again’ - Specific Example
Of course, some music will have more of an impact when used in a medical setting than others. One particular song that seems to have produced multiple successful results in achieving communication and ‘unlocking’ memories in those with Dementia, is Dame Vera Lynn’s ‘We’ll Meet Again.’ Undeniably, part of the reason the music is repeatedly triggering memories is probably due to the song being one of the most popular songs of the Second World War period, and a lot of people now reaching old age and finding themselves vulnerable to Dementias, are those were young when the Second World War occurred. Equally, the ‘hook’ or primary phrase being ‘We’ll meet again,’ is succinct and full of emotional connections for anyone who lost people in the war. The message is optimistic, and may well stir feelings of hope that people hung onto for the duration of the war. Musically speaking, the song is in the key of D major, thus the overall sound of the song is quite positive. The time signature is a standard 4/4, meaning it is in essence quite a simple song, but in the simplicity there is a sense of safety, of nostalgia even, which could perhaps be why the song is so well loved and remembered. The melodic line is fairly basic too, mostly subsisting of minims and crotchets, with the chorus concluding on a significant whole-note, tying into another. The notes remain fairly stable, before running down the scale only to return back to the higher note for the climax of the chorus. The ultimate effect of this is essentially one of resolution; the piece has a journey, which ultimately resolves in a way that is aurally pleasing. This adds to the overall sentiment of the song, meaning the listener has a calming and nostalgic experience upon hearing it.