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Music for memory

10 November 2016
Research student composes music to assist dementia patients

Conservatorium of Music postgraduate student Cyrus Meurant’s compositions are improving the lives of residents in an aged care facility. Last month he joined an Innovation Week panel to discuss the health benefits of music. 

The theatre and dance compositions of research student and Churchill Fellowship recipient Cyrus Meurant have been performed around the world, from Switzerland to London and New York. He’s now bringing his music to new audiences, composing scores for an aged care facility in Brisbane. We sat down with Cyrus to ask him how music can improve the memories of dementia patients (and even students!).  

Can you briefly explain your research?

There have been some remarkable cases of music having very positive health benefits for advanced dementia patients. So the idea was to compose music that would be suitable to play at different times of day in an aged care home, to help develop a sense of familiarity of time and relatable action/activity. It was envisaged that the music could play an important role in focusing the mind and engaging the senses.

What’s the science behind using music for memory?

I’m a composer and not a scientist, but the aims of my project are certainly informed by research. Literature on this has been expanding since the 1960s.

The benefits of listening to music are considerable. For dementia patients listening to music can have a reawakening effect. It has also been shown that listening to music in assisted care situations can improve the quality of life markedly and ensure an engaged mind and emotional well-being.

Is it something that could be applied to student learning?

Well I think that could be very interesting, we certainly use music in educating primary school students to remember things, so why not use music as a tool to engage the memory in other ways? If the music is composed with some kind of brief or aim, there’s often a better result than merely using a pre-existing piece of music. In the case of this project, the music could be used as cues as part of a study regime perhaps, or provide cues for the preparation in the reinforcement of learning information. It may also be of benefit to listen to music before studying to encourage a certain frame of mind or promote a certain kind of structural thinking, or simply provide emotional inspiration.

What was it like presenting on the Innovation Week panel?

It was a real privilege to present alongside talented peers who are creating and researching music in such positive social contexts – these ranged from studies of music in indigenous communities to the composition of music inspired by the movement of the human body. It was also great to meet people from the health sector who are looking for tangible outcomes for dementia sufferers through introducing musical activities.

Who’s your favourite artist?

It’s a long list, but I always come back to J.S. Bach.