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  • Helen Gregory

In tune with our musical memories


I heard a song on the radio recently that transported me back in time to when it was in the charts. It had such sentimental resonance that I got goosebumps and could visualise where and with whom I’d been listening to it, all those years ago.


I’m sure I’m not the only one to get ‘the chills’ listening to music. Research shows that this happens because music stimulates an ancient reward pathway in the brain, encouraging dopamine to flood the striatum, a part of the forebrain activated by addiction, reward, and motivation. Whether it’s the music from a first dance, lullabies from childhood or a theme tune from a favourite TV show, music has the ability to take us back in time and remind us of our past, giving you that flashback feeling.


We process music cognitively, emotionally, spiritually and physically - and it plays a key role in accessing our memories. It’s also an important tool for helping connect to people with dementia and there’s a great website - playlistforlife.org.uk - that gives tips on curating music for them. When speech fails someone and their memories are lost, sufferers can still connect to, and sing, the same songs from their childhood. Music seems to activate widespread networks across the brain all at once, so even if some parts are damaged by dementia, music can still reach other parts. These brain networks are active for all of us every time we tune into a piece of music.


Most people find that particular music will vividly reanimate times in their life, which can be in turns nostalgic, uplifting and emotional. So why not sit back and put a favourite album on to jog some memories? You might also find that those song lyrics even help to articulate some life experiences and express those feelings that are hard to put into words. And then use them to start writing your life story!