The brain of Alzheimer’s patients reacts to their favorite songs

Alzheimer's patients

Music is an important therapeutic weapon for Alzheimer’s patients and there are several studies that show how a large part of the patients preserve their musical memories even in the later stages.

“Music is the type of art that is closest to tears and memory,” said Oscar Wilde. The phrase can even be interpreted literally, since in the case of people who suffer from various types of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s, they are able to react to the stimulus of familiar music or their favorite songs.

Alzheimer's patients

A team of researchers at the University of Utah Health in Salt Lake City has demonstrated brain chemistry after connecting patients with strong cognitive impairment to music. The study, published online last April in The Journal of Prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease, shows proven evidence that family music can facilitate attention, reward, and motivation, which in turn makes it easier to manage Alzheimer’s emotional stress, revealing the therapeutic potential songs for Alzheimer’s patients.

As Alzheimer’s progresses, the language and memory centers in the brain are the most vulnerable to damage. However, certain brain networks remain relatively functional, in particular, those areas responsible for attention, known as the attention network. This is the same part of the brain that registers the emotion of listening to your favorite music in a person who is cognitively healthy.

This is how music makes you a Alzheimer’s patients, according to science

Researchers in charge of the study would like to know whether someone with Alzheimer’s care network would light up when listening to familiar songs during an MRI scan of the brain. To find out, they recruited 17 participants with dementia to undergo MRIs while listening to 20-second music clips from their personalized playlists. For each participant, the researchers played eight clips of music, the same eight clips in reverse, and eight blocks of silence.

Magnetic resonance imaging comparisons indicated that musical favorites stimulate several areas of the brain: not just the attention network, but also the visual, executive, and cerebellar networks. All showed significantly greater functional connectivity with music compared to silence. According to Norman Foster, lead author of the study, the research provides “objective evidence from brain imaging showing that music is a significant avenue for communicating with patients with Alzheimer’s disease.”

In turn, it should be remembered that musical practice is associated with a healthier neurocognitive aging , according to the review of several studies carried out by researchers from the University of Granada , who concluded that playing music through the voice or an instrument improves various cognitive skills -and not only those strictly related to music- because it involves multiple sensory systems of Alzheimer’s patients, motor functions and high-level cognitive processes.


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