Tag Archives: music

Music and memory: Study suggests significant new links

The link between musical expertise and linguistic working memory has been well established in the literature. However, new research from the University of Texas at Arlington suggests that musicians may have additional memory advantages, including enhanced visual/pictorial memory and better long-term memory.

In their study, lead author Heekyeong Park, assistant professor of psychology at UT Arlington, and graduate student James Schaeffer measured the electrical activity of neurons in the brains of both musicians and non-musicians using electroencephalography (EEG) technology, noting differences in frontal and parietal lobe responses.

“Musically trained people are known to process linguistic materials a split second faster than those without training, and previous research also has shown musicians have advantages in working memory,” said Park in a recent statement. “What we wanted to know is whether there are differences between pictorial and verbal tasks and whether any advantages extend to long-term memory.”

Study participants included 14 musicians, who had been playing classical music for 15 years or more, as well as 15 non-musicians. To test working memory, participants were shown both pictorial and verbal items and then asked to identify them among a group of similar foils. At the end of the session, long-term memory was tested by asking participants to identify test items they had already encountered versus completely new items.

On the working memory tasks, the musicians outperformed non-musicians in EEG-measured neural responses. In terms of long-term memory, however, musicians performed better in memory for pictorial (nonverbal) items only. Although the study does not establish the reason for this improvement in pictorial memory, the authors speculate that learning to read music may enhance an individual’s ability to process visual cues.

Dr. Park hopes to test more musicians soon to strengthen her findings. “Our work is adding evidence that music training is a good way to improve cognitive abilities,” she says. “If proven, those advantages could represent an intervention option to explore for people with cognitive challenges.”

The researchers presented their initial results last month at Neuroscience 2014, the international meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, in Washington, D.C. To learn more about Dr. Park’s work, visit her Web page on the UT Arlington Web site.

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Music “Reawakens” Alzheimer’s Patients

A remarkable transformation is taking place in nursing homes around the country as elderly patients are reconnecting with life through music. The brainchild of social worker Dan Cohen, a program called Music & Memory has created personalized iPod playlists for residents of elder care facilities, many of whom have Alzheimer’s type dementia. The results have been truly life changing for patients as they are “reawakened” by the music of their youth.

Cohen is now working with renowned neuropsychologist Oliver Sacks (author of Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain) on a documentary about Cohen’s program and the elderly patients who are responding so positively. In a clip from this documentary, a man reacts to hearing music from his past:

 

 

“Our approach is simple, elegant and effective,” says Cohen on his Music & Memory Web site. “We train elder care professionals how to set up personalized music playlists, delivered on iPods and other digital devices, for those in their care. These musical favorites tap deep memories not lost to dementia and can bring residents and clients back to life, enabling them to feel like themselves again, to converse, socialize and stay present.”

What do you think? Has music helped your clients with dementia to access memories and engage more positively in daily life? PAR wants to hear from you, so leave a comment and join the conversation!

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