Unforgettable … the songs you first heard as a teenager
Music holds the capacity to connect with people in a way few other things can, and research from University College London is helping maximise the impact that music therapy activities can have to help people living with dementia.
Evening Standard, 09/10/21 By Ross Lydall
Music first heard as a teenager is most likely to be remembered in later years, researchers have found.
They said tunes that became favourites between the ages of 13 to 19 formed a “reminiscence bump” that left the greatest impression on a person’s memory.
Songs associated with adolescence were found to be more memorable than those people listened to in their thirties or other periods of their life.
This is believed to be because they formed a soundtrack to “potent emotional experiences” such as puberty, secondary school and falling in love for the first time.
The research, involving experts at University College London and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, will be used to tailor-make playlists for people with dementia.
Improving well-being is a central aim of much dementia care and it is known that “receptive music therapy” can improve happiness, decrease sadness and stress and improve the quality of sleep.
People with dementia might not be able to remember the names of their favourite songs but the playlists could help them to reminisce with family and friends.
More than 150 participants in the study were played a random selection of 10 songs drawn from the 100 most popular from each year between 1945 and 2015, and asked how many they recalled.
The greatest recognition was for songs heard when they were aged between 13 and 19, with participants able to name six to eight on average.
Among tracks selected for those who were teenagers in 1984 were Let’s Dance by David Bowie, Papa Don’t Preach and Into The Groove from Madonna, and Hello by Lionel Richie.
The research, in the Journal of Multidisciplinary Healthcare, concluded that “music from this ‘reminiscence bump’ provides a rich source of retained music that should be tapped when creating playlists of meaningful music for people living with dementia”.
The charity Music for my Mind has now launched an app to help families create personalised playlists for people with dementia, based on music from their teenage years.
Keith McAdam, emeritus professor at LSHTM and founder of Music for my Mind, said: “Many people realise that music works for affected families and that people benefit from music to manage the distressing symptoms of dementia.
“Music brings back memories – we all have a soundtrack to our lives. Music helps people living with dementia and everyone needs a playlist from their teenage era.”