May 2, 2018

Research Shows Music Activates Brain in Alzheimer’s Patients

“When you play familiar music to a dementia patient they come alive. Music is like an anchor, grounding the patient back in reality.”

When you play familiar music to a dementia patient they come alive. Music is like an anchor, grounding the patient back in reality.
By Alzheimer's Reading Room

One of the best things I did to calm my mom, Dotty, was to play music from the time when she was between 16 to 28 years old (as well popular music from throughout here life like Frank Sinatra).

If you have not done this, you can't imagine how amazing it is when an Alzheimer's patients starts singing a song that was first made popular in 1932. Yes, Dotty did it.

Music calmed my mom. It also made her happier and for a period of time more aware and more cooperative.

Music Activates Regions of the Brain Spared by Alzheimer’s Disease

The Gist
  • Do you ever start singing a song from your teens or early 20s? Does it bring up emotions and feelings from that time?
You can thank the salience network of the brain for that emotional jolt.

Surprisingly, this region also remains an island of remembrance that is spared from the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers at the University of Utah Health are looking to this region of the brain to develop music-based treatments to help alleviate anxiety in patients with dementia.
“People with dementia are confronted by a world that is unfamiliar to them, dementia causes disorientation and anxiety. We believe music will tap into the salience network of the brain that is still relatively functioning.” ~ Jeff Anderson, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor in Radiology at Utah Health
Previous studies indicate that the effect of a personalized music programs do have a positive effect on the mood of dementia patients.

This study set out to examine a mechanism that activates the attentional network in the salience region of the brain.

The results offer a new way to approach anxiety, depression and agitation in patients with dementia.

Activation of neighboring regions of the brain may also offer opportunities to delay the continued decline caused by the disease.

The Study

For three weeks, the researchers helped participants select meaningful songs and trained the patient and caregiver on how to use a portable media player loaded with the self-selected collection of music.

“When you put headphones on dementia patients and play familiar music, they come alive. Music is like an anchor, grounding the patient back in reality.” ~ said Jace King

Using a functional MRI, the researchers scanned the patients to image the regions of the brain that lit up when they listened to 20-second clips of music versus silence.

The researchers played eight clips of music from the patient’s music collection, eight clips of the same music played in reverse and eight blocks of silence. The researchers compared the images from each scan.

The Results

The researchers found that music activates the brain, causing whole regions to communicate.

By listening to the personal soundtrack, the visual network, the salience network, the executive network and the cerebellar and corticocerebellar network pairs all showed significantly higher functional connectivity.
This is objective evidence from brain imaging that shows personally meaningful music 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.” ~ said Norman Foster, M.D., Director of the Center for Alzheimer's Care at U of U Health.
However, these results are by no means conclusive. The researchers note the small sample size (17 participants) for this study. In addition, the study only included a single imaging session for each patient. It is remains unclear whether the effects identified in this study persist beyond a brief period of stimulation or whether other areas of memory or mood are enhanced by changes in neural activation and connectivity for the long term.

“In our society, the diagnoses of dementia are snowballing and are taxing resources to the max,” Anderson said. “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.”

Their research will appear in the April online issue of The Journal of Prevention of Alzheimer's Disease.

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University of Utah Health. (April 28, 2018). Music activates regions of the brain spared by Alzheimer's disease.

K.G. Jones, M. Rollins, K. Macnamee, C. Moffit, S.R. Naidu, E. Garcia-Leavitt, R.K. Gurgel, J. Amaro and K.R. Breitenbach at U of U Health and University of Utah, E. Goldberg from the Jewish Family Services of Utah, J.M. Watson from University of Colorado and M.A. Ferguson from Massachusetts General Hospital also contributed to this project. This work received support from A. Scott Anderson and the American Otological Society.

Publisher:Alzheimer's Reading Room
Bob DeMarco
May, 2, 2018.
Title: Research Shows Music Activates Brain in Alzheimer’s Patients