Music on the Brain

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In an advanced age home in Australia, a substantial number of residents suffer from dementia, a merciless disease which robs them of their memories and their ability to perform even the most rudimentary of daily functions. Caregivers work desperately to connect with these patients and inspire improvements in their degenerative conditions. Remarkably, amidst the daily rounds of medications and physical therapy routines, they’re finding great success from a surprising source: music. What is it about music that moves us so intensely and directly, and how can it be employed in the treatment of neurological and physical disorders? Music on the Brain probes the depths of these fascinating questions and sheds light on a potentially profound therapeutic breakthrough in the process.

It’s all part of a new experimental project called Music and Memory, an experimental therapy program which is currently being adopted by a growing number of care facilities throughout Australia. After researching the past histories of their patients, the caregivers formulate a personalized playlist on an iPod for each of them. These playlists contain pieces of music that likely hold special meaning to them in their lives.

The film shows us the powerfully moving effects of these efforts. Patients whose responses had long been restrained or lay dormant are exhilarated by the familiar notes of a favoured old song. They remember lyrics in precise detail. They tap their feet and are overcome with a newfound sparkle and energy. The memories are in there, and the music provides a tunnel through which they can emerge. Caregivers and researchers are hopeful that these responses represent the gateway to improvements in overall cognitive function, physical capabilities, and other avenues of their care.

Music on the Brain investigates the neuroscience behind the alluring power of music – how our brains complete the beats of information between the notes, for instance – and makes a strong case advocating for its use as a viable means of treatment at care facilities all over the world. But the film also provides an inspiring, warmhearted look at an older generation who still have much to offer, and the power of music and human connection to unlock this potential.

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