A new study finds that singing songs from classic musicals can boost the brain function of people with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, the Guardian reports.
Researchers working with elderly residents at a U.S. care facility found that those who sang their favorite showtunes showed a marked improvement in mental performance compared to other residents who merely listened.
Over the course of a four-month study, the assisted living patients were led through familiar songs from musicals such as Oklahoma, The Wizard of Oz, and Pinocchio during 50-minute sessions, but only half of the participants sung along.
While listening sparked activity in the temporal lobe on the right side of the brain, singing led to more activity in the left side.
Patients who had sung the showtunes scored higher on cognitive and drawing tests after the study, as well as on a satisfaction-with-life questionnaire. The most improvement was seen among sufferers of moderate to severe dementia.
“A lot of people have grown up singing songs and for a long time the memories are still there,” explains neuroscientist Jane Flinn. “When they start singing it can revive those memories.”
“Even when people are in the fairly advanced stages of dementia, when it is so advanced they are in a secure ward, singing sessions were still helpful,” Flinn continues. “The message is: Don’t give up on these people. You need to be doing things that engage them, and singing is cheap, easy, and engaging.”
“Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” “The Sound of Music,” and “When You Wish Upon a Star” were among the showtunes sung during the study.