Musical Treatment for Dementia: Remembering who you are your Music, your Identity

Image Unavailable
Hermes receiving the Caduceus in Exchange for the Lyre from Apolo

The phrase music is a healer, perhaps never had a more vivid example than when Henry an old man who suffers Alzheimer’s disease and who barely uttered a word in the 10 years, received an ipod full of his music , for the first time. Shortly after the grooves went through the grooves inside his head, Alzehimer’s reign of mental silence was brought to an end. His ability to talk, answer, to remember, to recognize, to feel wholy alive was back. Reknown psychologist Steve Pinker regards Language as a ”window into the brain”, could it be then, that music is “the door into the brain”?. Henry’s case is not the only one that could be treated with music. Research has shown that out of all the memories that Alzeheimer tears apart, musical memories are the only ones that manage to escape from his silencing grip. [((El Haj et. al, 2011))] What makes a music moment different form other memories? We know thanks to direct brain recording experiments that memories formed in the same context become linked (Manning et al, 2011), but we unsuspected that pretty much the whole movie could be restored just from the soundtrack, let alone how healing could that experience be. The success of music therapy in pacients with Alzeheimer’s proves how connected music is to our defining faculty of memory, however is also conected to our motor hability, to our social cognition, to speech , to emotion, to decision making, vision and even to brain plasticity [((Zatorre, 2010))]. No wonder, Henry felt “as wholy man” after listening to his music form back in the day, he was not just remembering he was being renewed by the sounds.

A very recent study by scientists at the University of California Davis, suggest that memory recall increased activity across multiple brain regions at the same time. [((Watrous et al, 2013))] More intriguely this memories were associated with different frequencies of brain activity across the network, thus each different memory had a particular frequency. Frequencies are a matter of time and Music, they say, is the : “Art of time ensembling” , “The sound of time passing” (Bruce Bubaker). Steve Pinker discards music as “a spin off” of language. However under this perscpective the brain would seem to be a master of frequencies. A professional musician not only someone who plays music in his spare time. Which implies music is not a window, but a door.

Perhaps, that is exactly why healthy brain funtion can be restored with music. From mood states change in people with psychiatric disorders, to improve cognitive deficits in people with dementia and even increasing motor coordination in Parkinson patients. Is there a musical brain? or the musical brain is the only there is?. One thing is certain, Music like our brain has something from the past, something from the present and something from the future. That is to say, music is connected to our memory, to our identity and to our well being.

Music and Memory

Frequencies, The link between Music and Memory

Frequency is a main ingredient in both the brain and music. Out of the many dimensions that compose music’s complexity: pitch, rhythm, timbre, tempo, contour, loudness, reverberation as well as the properties that arise from the meaningful combination of them: meter, key, melody and harmony (D. Levitin). Tempo, meter, rhythm and even pitch are a matter of frequency, which is above all temporal phenomena. Because of the temporal nature of frequency and it’s importance to music some have regarded music as the “art of time ensembling”. On the other hand, within the human brain the art of time ensembling is carried out by memory, which similarly has a strong dependency on frequency.

Recent research performed using in-brain monitoring of areas of the brain that work together at the same time to recall memories, namely the prefrontal cortex, parts of parietal cortex and medial temporal lobe in patients with Epilepsia, found that memories of time and of place were associated with different frequencies of brain activity. For example, recalling, "What station is the next after Montreal?" set off a different frequency of activity from recalling "Where was I at 1 a.m.?". Dr. Ekstrom who leaded this research compared it to telecommunication wireless networks:
"Just as cell phones and wireless devices work at different radio frequencies for different information, the brain resonates at different frequencies for spatial and temporal information,"

Additionally, on the Ekstrom et. Al research showed that successful memory retrieval was characterized by greater global connectivity of the network composed by the neurons across this three areas. Findings like this are in tune with the spectral-fingerprint hypothesis, which argues that different cognitive operations manifest as distinct, frequency-specific patterns of interregional phase synchronization. In other words, the cooperative activity of neurons within distributed assemblies, entails the idea that certain types of neural assemblies are characterized by synchronous activity of their constituent neurons, and that different EEG frequency components reveal synchronies related to different perceptual, motor or cognitive states. The synchronization of oscillatory activities is a well-studied mechanism in the working of the brain and additionally it has demonstrated that brain activities could also synchronize to external stimuli [1] , such as a piece of music. Therefore, the found importance of frequency variance for memory and how brain activities would synchronize to a auditory stimuli, leads to think this might be the reason for the high rate of efficacy of memory retrieval using music cues, nevertheless deeper research on that particular claim remains to be performed.

Another linking factor for music and memory besides frequency, comes form the overlapping of relevant brain areas. Ekstrom et al. study, determined using a graph theoretical approach the medial temporal lobe was the main hub for interactions in memory recall and the temporal lobe is distinctively the area of the brain related to all auditory stimuli.

Music Memory Resistance and Powered MEmory Recall

Studies have shown that music may enhance the autobiographical memory performance ofAlzheimer’s disease (AD) patients. Given the nature and strength of the disease this evidence suggested musical memories would have a special resistance and as a result are less affected by the disease. Some researchers like Mohammed El Haj, and Ptr Janata attributed this to the positive emotional evocation that music is capable of. That special emotional intensity would make a music moment a stronger memory.

Aditionally, Experiments performed by researchers form Queen’s University in Kingston, Canada with impaired elderly patients presented unexpected patterns of memory for tunes and song lyrics. Impairments included profound deafness, right-hemisphere stroke, and dementia of the Alzheimer's type. Patients where exposed to excerpts and lyrics of popular music known among their generation, patterns for the impaired individuals differed according to the disorder, but each person had some scores within the same range that healthy seniors had on the test.

Nevertheless, researchers like Dr. Robert Zatorre remain cautious when talking about a “musical memory”, arguing that what the evidence shows is that music performs better as memory cue than images, or text. As it has been shown in studies where individuals recall an event less vaguely when presented to a music cue than in comparison to being presented a visual cue like photo. However, to speak about music memory is a completely different matter where evidence is not quite conclusive. The enhance in the performance of a autobiographical memory recall in patients with fAlzheimer’s disease (AD) might not be related to the musical moment on it’s own. It could not be related to how much music intensifies the experience of a particular moment, but for example, to how many more times that song was played over a lifetime.

Music and Identity

Connectomics, BDNF and Music

Mirror neurons and Live Music

Healing Sounds: Music Therapy

Individualized music treatment for elders with dementia

Tuning in: music treatment in parkinsons disease

1. Zatorre, Robert. Music, the food of neuroscience?. Nature Publishing Group. 2005
2. J. R. Manning, S. M. Polyn, G. H. Baltuch, B. Litt, M. J. Kahana. Oscillatory patterns in temporal lobe reveal context reinstatement during memory search. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2011;
3. Andrew J Watrous, Nitin Tandon, Chris R Conner, Thomas Pieters, Arne D Ekstrom. Frequency-specific network connectivity increases underlie accurate spatiotemporal memory retrieval. Nature Neuroscience, 2013; DOI: 10.1038/nn.3315
4. Mohamad El Haja*, Virginie Postalb & Philippe Allaina. Music Enhances Autobiographical Memory in Mild
Alzheimer's Disease. Current Health 2, a Weekly Reader publication Dec. 2009: 5.

Add a New Comment
Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License