Musician Works With Scientists to Prove the Power of Rhythm and How it Heals

By Emily Murray

Aging is a natural part of life but for those who watch their loved ones slip in to the depths of dementia, it can be painful to witness. It’s not often we look to musicians for medical advice, but a recent story in TIME explained how Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart discovered the positive impact rhythm can have on dementia by playing for his own grandmother.

Hart was caring for his grandmother who had not spoken for some time due to her dementia when, on the verge of putting her in to hospice, he picked up his drums and began softly playing. His grandmother, with a tear in her eye, broke her silence and began repeating his name.

While this touching story pulls at our heart strings, it also shows an important part of our lives that we often forget. Rhythm controls everything about our lives and the world around us. Levels of hormones in the body, the rhythm of the heart and other systems keep us healthy and living each day. Brain activity is stimulated in rhythms as well and when we get older, the patterns begin to change leaving less stimulation.

Hart’s story is no phenomenon, in fact, doctors and caregivers have noticed this same impact for years on patients who seem disconnected from the outside world while deep in their dementia.

Interestingly enough, there is no concrete answer yet as to why music and rhythm  produce such a strong reaction but it does help give us one more tool for helping our aging loved ones reconnect with parts of their lives gone by. Perhaps playing a familiar tune or favorite melody can help awaken the brain and allow it to revisit a time gone by.