don't understand


Registered User
Jun 4, 2006
why can my mum still sing a song word for word and not be able to hold a conversation with me


Registered User
Feb 24, 2006
Perhaps because when she sings she's repeating something she learned long ago, but when you are trying to hold a conversation she has to put new thoughts into new words, which uses a different part of the brain?

Hope you can enjoy singing together.



Registered User
Feb 6, 2006
I often wonder about this too. My MIL has vascular dementia which I think means that the damage can be patchy and some areas can be badly affected whilst others remain fine.

On Sunday my 5 year old was showing off her joke repatoire. She eventually had to fill in Grandma's lines in her Knock Knock ones (after many attempts at telling her what to say next) as my MIL obviously didn't know what was expected. Also a game of I spy was a wash out - five year old was very confused and a bit frustrated that "rules" were not being followed.

Signs of long-term memory being affected? Don't know but it was very sad to watch.


Registered User
Mar 12, 2005
West Sussex

Interesting question.

Mum sings all the words to songs she knows too and can often tell you who sings them, but ask her the name of any item like cup, table or plate and she has no idea. Her speech is mostly a string of unconnected words.

She has no idea who she or anyone else is most of the time, but say "cold heart "and she immediately adds "warm hands."

I have no idea why either, she is not alone in this as several fellow residents react correctly to various words and phrases when there is little coherent speech or understanding the rest of the time.



Registered User
Feb 22, 2006
sort of north east ish
kattel64 said:
why can my mum still sing a song word for word and not be able to hold a conversation with me
another possibility is because speaking and conversation is managed by the left brain, whilst singing is a right brain activity (I think I've got that the right way round). so different parts of the brain are managing the different actitivities. I believe theres some research that suggests that people who have a problem with stammering when talking, are unafflicted when singing.

i think the others who say it's about the difference between long and short term memory are also right, and also the words of songs are things that have been rehearsed over and over again and become pretty well lodged in the brain.

it's not just a symtom of dementia either I don't think. how come I sang along happily to the 70s and 80s selection on the way home from work, but then forgot what I needed from Tesco? ;)

Nutty Nan

Registered User
Nov 2, 2003
Just a thought ...

Apart from the fact that songs have probably been repeated hundreds of times are are well 'ingrained', the melodies must be a pretty powerful link and trigger for the lyrics.
Sadly, my husband seems to have 'lost' the words to all the old songs, although he used to sing for a living and had a huge repertoire of wonderful ballads, but we still play CDs all the time and music gives us a lift and some 'common ground' every day.


Registered User
Nov 1, 2005
Me and my Mum are AD novices....

...and I guess she would rather not be learning about it but I did hear something interesting on R4 recently. A Doctor described the progression of AD like this....

1. Imagine that for every hour of every day of your life, you could take a photograph of what/who/where etc you are and put it in an album.
2. Then AD appears on the scene
3. It first prevents new photographs from being placed in the album.
4. It then starts to hack around randomly at fairly recent photos.
5. Finally it starts ripping out all the oldest photos.

My Mum (commonly I understand) recalls events a lifetime ago in immense detail but cannot recall the converation we had minutes ago.
I know it's simplistic but it helped me and it made sense to Mum.



Registered User
Mar 23, 2005

There's a lot of anecdotal evidence that people with even quite advanced dementia can appreciate and interact with music.

The following research is quite interesting:

What is really fascinating is that the woman responded with surprise when the familiar tunes were altered. So she wasn't just responding like a tape recording - she was actively listening and, at some level, comparing the music to previously remembered patterns.

Another good article on this topic:

Take care,



Registered User
Mar 16, 2005
why can my mum still sing a song word for word and not be able to hold a conversation with me
It is strange, isn't it, kattel64? And thanks for those links, Nada and Sandy, very interesting reading.

Some of my fondest memories of my Dad, also now unable to hold any kind of real conversation, will be of him tapping his fingers and singing along to even relatively recent songs (is The Beatles relatively recent?!). At these times he seems at his happiest and I still feel I am able to enter his world when I sing along with him, so it is certainly therapy for me too. As Nutty Nan says: "some 'common ground'".

Best wishes,


Registered User
May 20, 2006
North East

thanks for that link - I've been worrying about my own memory recently, but having looked at that - it's all normal behaviour! - phew!!


Canadian Joanne

Volunteer Moderator
Apr 8, 2005
Toronto, Canada
Yes, the link was fantastic. I forgot my ATM number the other day - finally got it right after a couple of tries. Nice to know it's normal and not AD. I always do worry a bit when I have "Mummy" moments.

The music information is interesting. My mother remembers the lyrics to the old songs fairly well too. Can't put a sentence together now though.

I think there is a left-brain, right-brain connection but too lazy to look it up now.