child playing piano

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Two recently published studies reveal interesting links between music and memory and could be promising news for the millions affected by dementia around the world.

The first of these studies was carried out by researchers from Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) and published in the journal Neuropsychologia.  For this study, researchers  had “a group of healthy elderly people and a group with Alzheimer’s view a series of simple song lyrics on a computer screen, first with the words being sung by a young woman, then with the words being spoken by the same woman, and finally with no accompanying sound at all.”  They then compared how well these groups remembered the songs.  The researchers found that “[a]fter seeing and hearing four-line selections from the 80 test lyrics … those [subjects] with Alzheimer’s,  significantly improved their recall [after hearing the songs sung].” In contrast, for subjects in the control group, “the effect of hearing lyrics spoken or sung or merely appearing as text yielded the same result.”  To make sure subjects would have no knowledge of the songs beforehand, the researchers used “only children’s songs written in the last few years.”

The second of these studies was released today in the journal NeuropsychologyFor this study, researchers at the University of Kansas Medical Center assessed the verbal functioning, memory and attention skills of a group of 70 participants.  The participants were then divided in three groups: “One group had no musical training, one had one to nine years of musical study, and the third group had 10 or more years. None of the participants had Alzheimer’s disease, and all had similar levels of education and fitness.”  In this case, the researchers found that: “[t]hose who had studied music the longest performed best” in their assessments tests.  This group was  “followed by the next group of musicians” and “the non-musicians scored lowest on all tests.”  They add that “[t]he score differences between higher- and lower-level musicians weren’t statistically significant, but there were significant differences between high-level musicians and non-musicians.”  The study thus concluded that there is “a strong predictive effect of high musical activity throughout the life span on preserved cognitive functioning in advanced age.”

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Boston University School of Medicine