Researchers at the University of Utah have determined that the region of the brain that records emotional responses to music — formally called the salience network — remains unaffected in its ability to retain memories at the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
The findings from the University of Utah Health’s examination of music memory in relation to Alzheimer’s disease provides more information on how music-based treatments can be helpful for those suffering with memory compromising diseases, expanding upon the findings of a previous study conducted by the International Longevity Centre think tank and the Utley Foundation, which determined that there was “emerging evidence to suggest that music may help to delay the onset of dementia and improve brain function and information recall” in January.
University researchers found that music-based treatments are successful in tempering anxiety in dementia patients. Researchers used a personalized music program on mood to examine the shifts in patients’ moods when the participants selected and listened to songs that bore a personal significance. The researchers monitored an MRI to monitor the regions of the brain that illuminated when the patients listened to 20-second clips of music, as opposed to silence. The results indicated that music activates the brain, “causing whole regions to communicate,” including the visual, salience, executive, cerebellar, and corticocerebellar networks, which showed an increase in functional connectivity when the patients listened to the selected songs.
Director of the Center for Alzheimer’s Care at U of U Health, Norman Foster noted that the evidence from the brain imaging imparts that music that contains a personal meaning is an “alternative route for communicating with patients who have Alzheimer’s disease.” “Language and visual memory pathways are damaged early as the disease progresses, but personalized music programs can activate the brain, especially for patients who are losing contact with their environment,” Foster added.
The researchers remain mindful that the results are not conclusive, given the small sample size of 17 participants, and the single imaging MRI sessions per patient. Researchers are currently unsure as to whether the mental effects observed in the study are representative only of brief periods of stimulation, or whether memory and mood can enjoy long term enhancement through repeated stimulation.
“In our society, the diagnoses of dementia are snowballing and are taxing resources to the max,” said Jeff Anderson, an associate professor in Radiology at U of U Health. “No one says playing music will be a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but it might make the symptoms more manageable, decrease the cost of care, and improve a patient’s quality of life.”
Foster and Anderson co-authored the study, which has since been published in the online issue of The Journal of Prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease.