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Music as a Memory Tool for Patients with Alzheimer’s
Researchers at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) and Veterans Affairs Boston Healthcare System (VA BHS), have published a study showing that in some cases, music may improve memory for patients with Alzheimer’s disease. The study, which is published online in the journal Neuropsychologia, was led by Nicholas Simmons-Stern, at the Center for Translational Cognitive Neuroscience at the VA BHS and the Alzheimer’s Disease Center at BUSM.
To determine how music might be used as a memory tool, the researchers enrolled 12 adults with Alzheimer’s disease and 12 healthy older adults. The researchers created songs with lyrics related to daily activities such as performing housework or taking medications. For example: “When it is breakfast time/take the pills take the pills/be sure to take yours not mine/so take your pills.”
Participants were presented with printed lyrics for 40 songs; 20 of those songs were accompanied by a spoken recording and the other 20 were accompanied by a sung version. Participants were then asked questions about general content memory (“did you hear song lyrics about pills?”) and specific content memory (“when should you take your pills?”) related to each song’s message.
Researchers found that general content memory for patients with Alzheimer’s disease was improved when lyrics were sung as opposed to spoken. However, specific content memory was not improved when lyrics were sung. In other words, after hearing a song version of the message, the patients remembered they had heard a song about pills but were less likely to remember the specific message of the song.
“This study takes the first step in using music to help aid memory in patients with Alzheimer’s disease, which may ultimately help them to live with greater independence,” said Andrew Budson, MD, senior author of the study.
The study authors conclude that these findings may be helpful in situations when general memory, but not specific details, is needed. For instance, they give an example of an AD patient who lives in a nursing home but becomes agitated when he forgets where he is. Music therapy could be used to incorporate details about the nursing home into a song, which could then be played to help calm the patient and improve his familiarity with the home.
“These results will help guide the development of music-based therapies designed to improve memory and the quality of life of those living with Alzheimer’s disease,” added Simmons-Stern.
The researchers have also recently completed another study examining differences in the benefit of music on memory between patients with Alzheimer’s disease and healthy older adults, which will be published in an upcoming special edition of the journal Psychomusicology: Music, Mind, and Brain. “Our group is continuing to explore the promise and limitations of using music as a tool to enhance memory in both healthy older adults and patients with Alzheimer’s disease,” said Rebecca Deason, PhD, leader of this study.
Submitted by Jessica Hurst, MD.