British composer Alexis Kirke uses music to help dementia sufferers remember new information.

A British composer has come up with a program that is aimed to help dementia sufferers to retain information. In fact, he hopes that he can develop the work sufficiently to enable them to learn new things.

Alexis Kirke has considered for some time how musical jingles lodge themselves in our brains, sometimes staying with us for many decades. It occurred to him recently that a practical extension of what, at times, may seem an annoying phenomenon, could be utilised to help Alzheimer sufferers retain new information.

Although much empirical information on how music can aid the brains of Alzheimers sufferers is readily available, Kirke only uncovered two papers that covered the topic of new music relating to such a condition. A member of the Interdisciplinary Centre for Computer Music Research, Kirke says that the company is “considering pursing this as a longer term collaborative scientific project” but that “at this stage things are very much artistic rather than scientific.”

Already well known for their use of algorithmic composition, the ICCMR are working with Kirke to produce two simple prototype algorithms – one for text and the other for mobile phone numbers. Kirke creates ‘Memory Ringtones’ by replacing each digit of a phone number with a pitch. These pitches are then assigned rhythms according to digit-groupings. It is hoped that sufferers will eventually memorise the tunes of their most frequent callers. The algorithm becomes more complex when words are added into the equation.

Anyone who has seen Michael Nyman's fascinating opera The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat will remember that the neurologist's patient, Dr P, who suffers from a form of aphasia, uses fragments of Schubert to help him get dressed, eat his meals. In a real life twist, Kirke has come up with something similar and equally practical. Scored for mezzo soprano and cello, Remember the Day is a collaboration with dementia sufferer Doreen Abbott. The two met at a therapy session organised through the Plymouth University Dementia Group in the UK. Abbott’s daily medication and to-do lists form the basis of the works libretto.

It is hoped that Kirke’s work will promote further research into the benefits of music for memory loss caused by dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

"Singing the Medication Label" – Alzheimer's Memory Jingle Algorithms for a Performance from ICCMR on Vimeo.

Kirke’s Remember A Day received its premiere performance at Peninsular Arts Contemporary Music Festival at Plymouth University, UK on February 7, 2014.