Why do Alzheimer’s disease sufferers remember songs from distant past?

Alzheimer’s disease, the 6th leading cause of death in America, is a form of dementia, commonly associated with memory loss in later life. It affects different areas of people’s lives such as planning, organisation and co-ordination. Despite being widely known as a condition of the elderly, it is not uncommon for people in their 40s or 50s to develop Alzheimer’s. At the time of writing, the causes of this disease is unknown, and hence, there is very little known about its treatment and prevention.

 

SYMPTOMS

Brain imaging studies have shown that little by little, the brains of people with Alzheimer’s are getting thinner and are losing their connections to each other. Such degeneration of the brain causes significant memory loss, particularly of newly presented items. Symptoms also include a decline in organisation skills, planning and co-ordination, as well as having (unfounded) suspicions over significant others.  These symptoms will gradually worsen over time- the progression varies from one person to another.

 

THE EFFECT OF MUSIC

There has been some cases where Alzheimer’s sufferers who were non-responsive and were unable to communicate suddenly awakens when they hear a piece of music which they liked in the past (before they had Alzheimer’s). A case in point is that of Henry, which as you will see in the video, was unresponsive to other therapies and interventions. But after being given an ipod which played music from his era, he began to respond to simple questions. Here’s the video:

 

 

One of the reasons why people such as Henry is able to respond to music is because our medial Prefrontal Cortex (mPFC) is one of the last parts that are affected by Alzheimer’s. A recent fMRI study conducted by Dr. Janata of the University of California-Davis has shown that the mPFC is the part of our brains which processes music and interlinks it with memory and emotions. As long as the mPFC is still intact and relatively undamaged by Alzheimer’s disease, significant pieces of music will still be able to evoke emotions and memories.

 

For an abstract of Dr. Janata’s research, click HERE

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