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Research : Music and Alzheimer’s Disease


Nicholas R. Simmons-Stern, Andrew E. Budson, Brandon A. Ally. Music as a memory enhancer in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Neuropsychologia, 2010; 48 (10): 3164

Musical mnemonics have a long and diverse history of popular use. In addition, music processing in general is often considered spared by the neurodegenerative effects of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Research examining these two phenomena is limited, and no work to our knowledge has explored the effectiveness of musical mnemonics in AD. The present study sought to investigate the effect of music at encoding on the subsequent recognition of associated verbal information. Lyrics of unfamiliar children’s songs were presented bimodally at encoding, and visual stimuli were accompanied by either a sung or a spoken recording. Patients with AD demonstrated better recognition accuracy for the sung lyrics than the spoken lyrics, while healthy older adults showed no significant difference between the two conditions. We propose two possible explanations for these findings: first, that the brain areas subserving music processing may be preferentially spared by AD, allowing a more holistic encoding that facilitates recognition, and second, that music heightens arousal in patients with AD, allowing better attention and improved memory.

Related Article:
Boston University Medical Center (2010, May 12). Music aids Alzheimer’s patients in remembering new information. ScienceDaily.

“Top 10’s for Memory.” Institute for Music and Neurologic Function. Institute for Music and Neurologic Function, n.d. Web. 10 Feb 2012.

Based on more than 30 years of experience, the Institute for Music and Neurologic Function (IMNF) has found that despite losses in cognitive ability, short–term memory and changes in behavior, people with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia have the ability to recognize music of personal importance.

Trying to find the right song to reach a person with dementia may be difficult if their personal music preferences are not known. However, research in music and memory indicates that people tend to remember best the songs that were popular when they were teenagers through their early 20’s.

Firth, S. (2009, March 02). Why Music Matters for the Alzheimer’s Patient.

A new UC Davis study shows that memory, music and emotions all activate the same region of the brain, which may have implications for Alzheimer’s patients.  MSNBC reported Janata’s finding that as Alzheimer’s progresses, this area remains intact longer, while most other areas of the brain have deteriorated.

FYI Health Writer. (2011, July 06). Fyi living. Effect of Music Therapy on Anxiety and Depression in Alzhemier’s Patients.

Various studies have highlighted the significance of music therapy in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. The aim of this study was to assess the effect of a new type of music therapy, on the depression and anxiety levels in patients with less severe Alzheimer-type dementia. The study was performed on a group of 30 patients, half of whom had weekly sessions of music therapy for 24 weeks. At the end of the study, significant improvement was seen in the anxiety and depression levels of those who went through the music sessions.
For more information:
 Effect of Music Therapy on Anxiety and Depression in Patients with Alzheimer’s Type Dementia: Randomised, Controlled Study
Publication Journal: Journal of Dementia and Geriatric Cognitive Disorders, July 2009
By S. Guétin; F. Portet
From the Centre Mémoire de Ressources et de Recherches, Montpellier, France, and Université Paris, Paris, France

Debaggio, T (2002).  Losing My Mind: An Intimate Look at Life with Alzheimer’s.  New York, NY: The Free Press.

Tom Debaggio tells his incredible journey through early onset Alzheimer’s.  His account describes the wonder of memory and the devastation that occurs as it begins to change and fade.  This book provides a striking glimpse into a man’s struggle to stay connected with the world and his life.