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Music Enhances Learning for Alzheimer's Patients

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Music combined with lyrics has been found to enhance new learning for patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers tested two groups of patients with Alzheimer’s disease to find that listening to music accompanied by lyrics can help Alzheimer’s patients remember new verbal information.

Scientists from Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) say presenting new information in the context of music could have implications for Alzheimer’s disease therapy.

Learning new words was compared among Alzheimer’s patients and a healthy control group. Scientists used either spoken words or lyrics accompanied by music with the words also on a computer screen.

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Senior author Brandon Ally, PhD, an assistant professor of neurology and director of Neuropsychology Research at BUSM for Translational Cognitive Neuroscience says, "Our results confirmed our hypothesis that patients with AD performed better on a task of recognition memory for the lyrics of songs when those lyrics were accompanied by a sung recording than when they were accompanied by a spoken recording.”

Forty songs were used – twenty were accompanied by sung lyrics, and twenty of the songs were delivered with spoken lyrics. Dr. Ally adds, "However, contrary to our hypothesis, healthy older adults showed no such benefit of music.”

The study shows that when Alzheimer’s patients heard music and sung lyrics they were able to learn new information. Understanding how the brain processes music in the presence of Alzheimer’s disease could lead to more comprehensive therapies for patients.