Music is the frequency that drives us. It motivates us, and it moves us. And if you are worried about losing memories of music, if you were to ever get dementia and Alzheimer’s, you can stop, because science says it won’t happen.
The reason behind this is that of Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR), or the tingling sensation that is provoked when we listen to music. In a study published by the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease in 2018, scientists showed the parts of the brain that were responsible for ASMR. This is important because apparently these parts of the brain are not affected by Alzheimer’s or dementia.
They concluded that the part of the brain that is responsible for ASMR doesn’t get lost during the various stages of Alzheimer’s or dementia. While Alzheimer’s does put the people who experience it through various stages of confusion, they actually believe that music can bring them back to lucidity. With the help of music, some people have actually been able to come back to normal even if just for a short moment. Music as a form of therapy is quite prominent in the world of those with these issues.
Please do not get me wrong! Nobody is saying playing music will be a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but it might make the symptoms more manageable for some people. As time passes the more we learn about the ASMR response and Alzheimer’s as a whole perhaps the easier it will be to use music therapy or other things of the sort more effectively. If you know someone who has been affected by a form of dementia then you know how heartbreaking it can be to see them lose themselves.
“People with dementia are confronted by a world that is unfamiliar to them, which causes disorientation and anxiety,” said Jeff Anderson, MD, PhD, associate professor in Radiology at U of U Health and contributing author on the study. “We believe music will tap into the salience network of the brain that is still relatively functioning.”
Previous work demonstrated the effect of a personalized music program on mood for dementia patients. This study set out to examine a mechanism that activates the attentional network in the salience region of the brain. The results offer a new way to approach anxiety, depression, and agitation in patients with dementia. Activation of neighboring regions of the brain may also offer opportunities to delay the continued decline caused by the disease.
For three weeks, the researchers helped participants select meaningful songs and trained the patient and caregiver on how to use a portable media player loaded with the self-selected collection of music.
“When you put headphones on dementia patients and play familiar music, they come alive,” said Jace King, a graduate student in the Brain Network Lab and first author on the paper. “Music is like an anchor, grounding the patient back in reality.”
Using a functional MRI, the researchers scanned the patients to image the regions of the brain that lit up when they listened to 20-second clips of music versus silence. The researchers played eight clips of music from the patient’s music collection, eight clips of the same music played in reverse and eight blocks of silence. The researchers compared the images from each scan.
The researchers found that music activates the brain, causing whole regions to communicate. By listening to the personal soundtrack, the visual network, the salience network, the executive network and the cerebellar and corticocerebellar network pairs all showed significantly higher functional connectivity.
“This is objective evidence from brain imaging that shows personally meaningful music is an alternative route for communicating with patients who have Alzheimer’s disease,” said Norman Foster, MD, Director of the Center for Alzheimer’s Care and Imaging Research at U of U Health and senior author on the paper. “Language and visual memory pathways are damaged early as the disease progresses, but personalized music programs can activate the brain, especially for patients who are losing contact with their environment.”
What do you think about all of this? Have you considered music therapy for your loved one who is suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia? Perhaps music could be the key to something we don’t quite see just yet.