Aug 29, 2011

Researchers Find Location of 'Waltzing Matilda' in the Brain

Although people with Alzheimer's disease have certain difficulties with memory, their ability to remember and recognize music is preserved. This is important for families and carers, who can use music as a means of communication and enjoyment.

Alzheimer's Reading Room

Great headline, wouldn't you say?

Ever wonder how and why persons living with dementia can sing along even when they can't remember the question they just asked you a couple of minutes ago?

How about my Dotty? She'll hear a song and start singing it. Dotty has a very sweet voice by the way. Well some of you know it because you have heard her in the video's. Here is the link to our video page on YouTube.

How about the time last year when I was watching Treme on HBO and Dotty started belting out a tune I never heard,  Not a Ghost of A Chance. 

A search of the Internet cleared that one up for me. The song was written in 1932 and first made popular by Billie Holiday. At the time, it was mind boggling.

Ever wonder how and why? Here you go.


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Researchers find location of 'Waltzing Matilda' in the brain

Neuroscientists have pinpointed the area of our brain where we store memories of well-known tunes such as 'Waltzing Matilda' and 'Baa Baa Black Sheep'.

The findings are part of a study, published in the journal Brain, on memory loss in dementia, in particular looking at the ability to remember and recognise sounds.

"This research helps us to identify which areas of our brain are critical for storing knowledge and memories," says Dr Olivier Piguet, senior researcher at Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA).

"Importantly, it allows us to understand what happens when these storage systems break down in degenerative diseases such as dementia, and how we may be able to remediate that damage," he says.

In the study, lead by Prof John Hodges and PhD student Sharpley Hsieh, participants with dementia, as well as healthy controls, were asked to distinguish between well-known tunes and made-up tunes that had the same key and tempo but a different combination of notes.

The 27 participants with dementia had a diagnosis of either Alzheimer's disease or a type of dementia called semantic dementia, where patients lose their understanding of words, objects and concepts.

The researchers found that participants with semantic dementia were unable to recognise the famous melodies.

MRI scans of these participants showed shrinkage in an area of the brain called the right anterior temporal lobe. Located behind the right ear, this area is already known to be important for recognising famous faces.

Participants with Alzheimer's did not show significant damage in this area of the brain.

"Although people with Alzheimer's disease have certain difficulties with memory, their ability to remember and recognise music is preserved," says Dr Piguet. "This is important for families and carers, who can use music as a means of communication and enjoyment."

Dr Piguet says these types of studies provide a unique opportunity to study the structure of memory in the brain.

"Every day, we are building a more detailed 'map' of the human brain," he says. "As our 'map' improves, we will be better able to understand how we can repair the damage that occurs in dementia."

Neural basis of music knowledge: evidence from the dementias http://bit.ly/nDmSKk







More Insight and Advice for Caregivers

Original content Bob DeMarco, the Alzheimer's Reading Room