You might have long forgotten your high school French lessons or the quadratic formula, but chances are you still know every single word to “Mmmbop” and other insanely catchy earworms. According to a new study out of the University of Utah Health, there’s a reason why music tends to stay engrained in the mind so strongly—and it actually could be immune to cognitive diseases, such as Alzheimer’s. Pretty powerful, right?
Published in The Journal of Prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease, researchers share their findings about how music could be used to help patients with dementia, which has already shown to help with mood. For three weeks, the researchers helped the participants (who all had Alzheimer’s) pick meaningful songs and taught them how to play them on a portable music device. “When you put headphones on dementia patients and play familiar music, they come alive,” says Jace King, one of the study’s authors and a graduate student at Brain Network Lab.
“Language and visual memory pathways are damaged early as the disease progresses, but personalized music programs can activate the brain.” —Norman Foster, MD
MRIs showed parts of the brain that lit up when the participants listened to the music. The music actually activated parts of the brain, sparking the neurons to communicate better with each other—pretty major given the regions were otherwise dead zones. “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,” says Norman Foster, MD, another of the paper’s authors and the director for the Center for Alzheimer’s Care at the University of Utah Health.
While the study is small, it does offer up hope for those suffering from the cognitive disease: Adding more music to their daily activities could ultimately serve as the soundtrack to a life they’ll long remember.
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