Alzheimer’s patients across the country are getting some relief through music. Although these patients may not recognize faces or names, they are able to recognize familiar tunes. This happens because the mind can process audio more easily than it can the visual. Concetta Tomaino, executive director of the Institute for Music and Neurologic Function at New York’s Beth Abraham Family of Health Services says “Auditory processing seems to be the last skill to go.”
This is exciting news because when a person recognizes a particular song, most often an event is linked to that song. If the patient recognizes the song, they will typically recall a memory associated with that song. Research has yet to pinpoint the effect of music on Alzheimer’s disease (AD), but one thing is clear: music does seem to play a part in calming patients and aiding in memory recall.
Petr Janata, associate professor of psychology at the University of California, conducted an experiment where he mapped the brain activity of a group of people while they listened to music. The medial prefrontal cortex, the area directly behind the forehead, remains intact in Alzheimer’s patients longer than other parts of the brain. This area of the brain houses the capacity for feeling and sensation. Janata states that “[The] music serves as a soundtrack for a mental movie that starts playing in our head.”
One such study was conducted by Researchers from Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM), where people with AD and a control group of healthy individuals were administered a test. The participant’s were exposed to the lyrics of 40 songs; 20 of the songs were spoken while the other 20 were sung. Brandon Ally, PhD, an assistant professor of neurology and director of Neuropsychology Research at the BUSM Center for Translational Cognitive Neuroscience says, “Our results confirmed our hypothesis that patients with AD performed better on a task of recognition memory for the lyrics of songs when those lyrics were accompanied by a sung recording than when they were accompanied by a spoken recording.”
Furthermore, Letitia Jackson, director of health services at Senior Star Living, says, “We were hearing about regeneration of brain cells, cognitive improvement and mood enhancement. So we had to seize upon this.” And who wouldn’t? The very fact that music can play a part in an Alzheimer’s patient’s ability to remember is nothing short of amazing. If music can be used to stir up memories that have been dormant for so long, then the use of music programs merits more research.
American Psychological Association (2010, June 21). Experts look to music as way to uncover past buried by dementia. The Kansas City Star. Retrieved July 4, 2010, from http://www.apa.org/news/psycport/PsycPORTArticle.aspx?id=krt_2010_06_21_kniga_3182-0107-MED-ALZHEIMERS-MUSIC.KC.xml
Boston University Medical Center (2010, May 13). Music aids Alzheimer’s patients in remembering new information. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 4, 2010, from http://www.sciencedaily.com /releases/2010/05/100512112314.htm
Firth, S. (2009, March 2). Why music matters for Alzheimer’s patients.” March 02, 2009. Retrieved July 04, 2010, from http://www.findingdulcinea.com/news/health/2009/feb/Why-Music-Matters-for-Alzheimer-s-Patients.html