Q&A: How Music Can Cultivate a Healthy Brain?

Harmony of the Mind: Unveiling the Impact of Music on Mental Well-being

AARP's Music and Memory project intricately explores the pivotal role music plays in our lives and its profound impact on our health. In a conversation with Julene Johnson, a mental neuroscientist at the Institute for Health and Aging at the University of California, San Francisco, AARP delved into the significance of music in promoting the health of our minds.


Exploring the Musical Mind

Julene Johnson initiated her exploration into the impact of music on brain health through a focus on performance and music therapy during her academic years. However, a transformative experience observing an older woman with dementia playing the piano in an adult day center shifted her focus to delve into mental neuroscience and aging. Witnessing the transformative effect of a simple melody on the entire room inspired her to better comprehend the profound influence of music on us.

Unrecognized Benefits of Musical Engagement

Beyond the commonly acknowledged benefits of music, such as enjoyment and entertainment, Julene Johnson emphasizes the often overlooked advantages that musical involvement can bring. Contrary to the perception that music is solely for leisure, she asserts that engaging with music contributes to physical well-being, enhancing physical capabilities. Additionally, her research reveals that singing in a choir can alleviate depression and boost self-esteem, showcasing the multifaceted positive impacts of musical participation.

Pioneering the Sound Health Network

As a leader in the Sound Health Network, Julene Johnson sheds light on the potential of music to enhance lives. The network strives to disseminate information about the diverse benefits of music to the public. Collaborating with the National Institutes of Health, the Kennedy Center, and renowned soprano Renée Fleming, the network aims to conduct further research on the therapeutic potential of music. Particularly in the realm of dementia treatment, where pharmaceutical advancements are limited, music emerges as a promising avenue for improving the quality of life.

Music's Enduring Role in Mental Health

Reflecting on the historical exploration of music and health, Julene Johnson highlights a profound finding from the 1850s. It was observed that individuals who had suffered a stroke and lost their ability to speak retained their musical abilities, showcasing the unique preservation of music in the face of neurological challenges. This discovery ignited a quest to unravel the distinctive connection between music and the brain, especially in instances where language comprehension is impaired.


A Lifelong Affair with Music

As someone whose life has been intertwined with music from an early age, Julene Johnson envisions maintaining her musical engagement as she ages. Recounting fond memories of playing music for her grandmother with dementia, she expresses her intent to return to performing in a Latin fusion woodwind guitar ensemble and continue to refine her skills on the kantele, a finger-plucking string instrument from Finland. Embracing her advice, she plans to deepen her connection with her familial musical roots, illustrating the enduring and enriching role of music throughout one's life.

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