Alzheimer’s disease is irreversible and incurable. While there are some promising treatments, Alzheimer’s is terrible and it is pretty much a written scenario of what is going to happen once you hear that diagnosis. However, some things can at least help a little bit. For example, researchers at the University of Toronto and Unity Health Toronto discovered that listening to personally meaningful music may be beneficial to patients with early Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s disease has a relatively slow onset in most cases. Amyloid beta plaques start accumulating and disturbing connections between different brain regions. This accumulation lasts for quite some time and there is a good window of opportunity to alleviate some of the symptoms early in the progression of the disease. Scientists asked 14 participants with mild cognitive impairment or early Alzheimer’s disease to listen to a curated playlist of autobiographically relevant, long-familiar music for one hour a day over the course of three weeks. Some participants had a musical background while others did not. Researchers conducted MRI scans before and after the listening period.
This study revealed that familiar, personally meaningful music did induce some changes to the brain function and structure. New music did not have this effect – when participants were listening to something new, only their auditory cortex lit up with activity. Meanwhile, familiar music (like songs from their wedding) caused significant activation in the deep-encoded network of the prefrontal cortex, which signifies cognitive engagement. Scientists also noted a strong engagement in the subcortical brain region, which is often affected by Alzheimer’s disease. Music helped both musicians and non-musicians in the same ways – it appeared to be beneficial for brain plasticity, which is severely damaged in Alzheimer’s disease.
Michael Thaut, senior author of the study, said: “Whether you’re a lifelong musician or have never even played an instrument, music is an access key to your memory, your pre-frontal cortex. It’s simple: keep listening to the music that you’ve loved all your life. Your all-time favourite songs, those pieces that are especially meaningful to you. Make that your brain gym.”
Scientists are now thinking about the possibility of developing music-based interventions. They would be very cheap, non-invasive and pleasurable. It is often said that music has healing powers and while this research does not prove that to be the case, it is nice to know that it can bring some comfort for people who are seriously ill.
Source: University of Toronto