101-Year-Old Woman With Dementia Doesn’t Forget Music

I read about a 101-year-old woman whose dementia seems to have skipped over the musical part of her brain. This is not the first case of music sidestepping brain sicknesses; Oliver Sacks has written about this happening with amnesia.

The article I read in New Scientist says she was a trained musician earlier in life, and those skills stuck with her:

“She rarely knows where she is, and doesn’t recognize people she has met in the last few decades. But she can play nearly 400 songs by ear.”

Elderly hands playing piano
Credit: newscientist.com

This article says that evidence shows music may be spread throughout the brain more than language.

“That might be a reason why it’s able to sustain itself for such a long period in folks that happen to be developing dementia.”

Music continues to amaze and baffle me.

Header photo via Alzheimer’s Society

Book Review: Musicophilia

The book begins by telling the story of a man who discovered his love of music after lightning struck him.

Next thing you know, you’re sucked into the outlandish true stories of people thriving and people enduring torment from their experiences with music.

These people were the patients and acquaintances of the late Oliver Sacks, who was a physician, a Professor of Clinical Neurology and Psychiatry at Columbia University, and an author of many other books about the brain.

Musicophilia - Oliver Sacks

In Musicophiliahe talks about synesthesia. Many types of synesthesia exist, but Sacks focused on one man named Michael Torke who saw colors with tones.

As a boy, Torke once said to his music teacher, “I love the blue piece.” This section made me jealous of synesthetes.

Sacks also wrote about how a man named Clive forgets nearly everything but remembers music and melody without hesitation. He remembers two things in life: his wife, Deborah, and music.

Besides that, his memory was a complete mess.

Sacks writes in a layman-friendly style with a bit of doctor lingo here and there. Both the common man (like myself) and the educated, Harvard-graduate, award-winning physician can be proud to display this on his or her bookshelf.

Sacks divided his stories into four parts:

  1. Haunted by Music (stories of people hearing music in their heads)
  2. A Range of Musicality (stories of synesthesia and blindness)
  3. Memory, Movement, and Music (amnesia, music therapy, Tourette’s, and Parkinson’s)
  4. Emotion, Identity, and Music (depression and dementia)

If you’ve never heard about things like synesthesia, musical hallucinations, or music’s effect on coping, this is the first book you should read.

RELATED: Sad music warms the musician’s heart

It’s somewhat of a lengthy book, weighing in at about 350 pages, but you may not be able to put it down.