Alzheimer’s Spares Long-Term Musical Memory

Alzheimer’s erases a large part of patient’s memory. The disease seems to spare only musical memory, as Alzheimer’s patient can often recall musical pieces even when other memories have already faded. In some cases, they are able to sing lyrics of songs even when speaking has become almost impossible for them.

Scientists at the Max Plank Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Lepzig wanted to know why musical memory is less affected by Alzheimer’s. To this end, they first had to locate the seat of musical memory in the brain. The researchers played top-10 hits, children’s songs, oldies and well-known classical pieces to Alzheimer’s patients while using magnetic resonance imaging to measure their brain activity. In this way, they identified the so-called supplementary motor cerebral cortex as the seat of long-term musical memory.

Analyses of the brains of Alzheimers patients show that this region is less affected by the disease; it loses fewer neurons than the other brain regions, and its metabolism does not decline as much.

Brain, June 3, 2015.

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