The Jameel Arts & Health Lab's Christopher Bailey describes how Johnny Cash's music helps dementia patients in Ireland

Dublin, Ireland

A recording and transcript of the interview with Christopher Bailey, co-director of the Jameel Arts & Health Lab and arts and health lead at the World Health Organisation, on Ireland AM during the 2024 Creative Brain Week at Trinity College Dublin. These remarks have been edited.



So just last week, I was touring the west of the country. And in Ireland, of course, you have no shortage of awe inspiring landscape. Awe has such a healing effect.

I learned something else: that in Ireland, there's a great love for the music of Johnny Cash. I saw the miracle of how music can bring back memory and identity.

And so I think what happens in the case of dementia is music doesn't cure anything; in that moment of this all-brain effect, the brain finds detours and reconnects to things that they thought they had lost.

When you are listening to music or playing music and you're put under an MRI machine, your whole brain lights up like a Christmas tree. It's a whole-brain effect.

And so I heard, when the musicians started playing 'Ring of fire', suddenly these people, who had been closed off, who looked contorted and confused, their eyes lit up in recognition to the song and they began to sing along.

And when it was done, the musicians would immediately intervene, while this connection was happening, and say something simple, like: "Do you remember when you sang that song?"

And the woman would say, "Yes! I was a young girl in my parents' farmhouse. I was by the fire. I took off my shoes and I danced on the cold stone floor."

And the loved ones nearby saw a glimpse of the person they thought they had lost. I mean, it was that specific, the memory.

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