Alzheimer’s Disease and Music: A Door to Past and New Memories

Music can soothe and trig­ger mem­o­ries. It is as such that music is most often used with Alzheimer’s patients. A new study sug­gests that music may also be used as a boost­er for learn­ing new things, an abil­i­ty very impaired in those with Alzheimer’s.

Indi­vid­u­als with Alzheimer’s and matched con­trols were pre­sent­ed with unfa­mil­iar songs lyrics: half of the lyrics were sung and half were mere­ly spo­ken. Par­tic­i­pants were then pre­sent­ed with the lyrics they had heard as well as with new ones, and asked whether they rec­og­nized any lyrics.

Alzheimer’s patients’ mem­o­ry was much bet­ter for sung lyrics than for spo­ken ones. There was no dif­fer­ence between the two types of lyrics for the healthy old­er adults.

Why do peo­ple with Alzheimer’s seem to ben­e­fit from musi­cal stim­uli? The authors of the study sug­gest that this is because music is processed more broad­ly in the brain than non-musi­cal infor­ma­tion. More­over some areas in this net­work are only slow­ly affect­ed by the disease:

Music pro­cess­ing encom­pass­es a com­plex neur­al net­work that recruits from all areas of the brain, includ­ing sub­cor­ti­cal areas such as the basal gan­glia […] and cor­ti­cal areas such as the medi­al pre­frontal cor­tex  and orbitofrontal cor­tex that are affect­ed at a slow­er rate in AD com­pared to the areas of the brain typ­i­cal­ly asso­ci­at­ed with memory.

It is also pos­si­ble that musi­cal infor­ma­tion increas­es arousal and thus sharp­ens atten­tion, which would ben­e­fit Alzheimer’s patients who have trou­ble focusing.

These results may have many prac­ti­cal appli­ca­tions: Musi­cal mnemon­ics may be used by care­givers to teach cru­cial new infor­ma­tion to peo­ple suf­fer­ing from Alzheimer’s, such as a phone num­ber or when to take a pill. Using known songs to present the infor­ma­tion may help indi­vid­u­als reg­is­ter it more eas­i­ly, which is very encour­ag­ing and easy to do.

Relat­ed posts on music and the brain:

About SharpBrains

SHARPBRAINS is an independent think-tank and consulting firm providing services at the frontier of applied neuroscience, health, leadership and innovation.
SHARPBRAINS es un think-tank y consultoría independiente proporcionando servicios para la neurociencia aplicada, salud, liderazgo e innovación.

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