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Facts & Data

Enjoying Music

Is Music An Ally? 

A study from last year looked at individuals with subjective cognitive decline — a condition that can often develop into Alzheimer’s — and found that those who listened to music programs could “enhance […] subjective memory function and objective cognitive performance.”

Following on from the findings of this and similar studies, scientists at the University of Utah Health in Salt Lake City decided to investigate the effects that listening to music have on the brains of people with Alzheimer’s.

“People with dementia,” explains study co-author Dr. Jeff Anderson, “are confronted by a world that is unfamiliar to them, which causes disorientation and anxiety.”

“We believe,” he adds, “music will tap into the salience network of the brain that is still relatively functioning.”

The brain’s salience network must detect which stimuli from the external environment are important enough to warrant a reaction from the human body. Dr. Anderson and team were interested in seeing how music might stimulate undamaged regions of this and other brain networks.

Their findings are now published online, in The Journal of Prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease. The researchers worked with 17 people with Alzheimer’s disease. First, over a period of 3 weeks, they assisted the participants in finding and selecting songs that were familiar and seemed meaningful to them.


This allowed the team to create personalized playlists, which they then loaded onto portable media players that they then instructed the participants and their caregivers on how to use. The visible effects on patients who listen to music are heartwarming, the scientists say. Next, the scientists performed MRI scans of the participants’ brains while they listened to montages combing 20-second fragments of melodies, as well as blocks of silence.


The subjects listened to eight fragments of songs selected from their own personalized playlists, plus the same eight music selections, but played in reverse, and also to eight periods of silence.


The MRI scans revealed that music from the participants’ own playlists effectively stimulated not only the activity of individual brain networks, but also communication between said networks. These were the visual network, the salience network, and the executive network, as well as the cerebellar and corticocerebellar network pairs.


“This is objective evidence from brain imaging,” says senior study author Dr. Norman Foster, “that shows personally meaningful music is an alternative route for communicating with patients who have Alzheimer’s disease.”

“Language and visual memory pathways are damaged early as the disease progresses,” he notes, “but personalized music programs can activate the brain, especially for patients who are losing contact with their environment.”


Quick Facts

  • More than 6 million Americans are living with Alzheimer's. By 2050, this number is projected to rise to nearly 13 million.

  • In the united states, Alzheimer’s and dementia deaths have increased 16% during the covid-19 pandemic.

  • 1 in 3 seniors dies with Alzheimer's or another dementia. It kills more than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined.

  • In 2021, Alzheimer's and other dementias will cost the nation $355 billion. By 2050, these costs could rise as high as $1.1 trillion.

  • More than 11 million Americans provide unpaid care for people with Alzheimer's or other dementias. 

  • More than 11 million Americans provide unpaid care for people with Alzheimer's or other dementias.

  • In 2020, these caregivers provided an estimated 15.3 billion hours of care valued at nearly $257 billion.

  • Only 53% of black Americans trust that a future cure for Alzheimer’s will be shared equally regardless of race, color or ethnicity.

  • 3 in 10 hispanics do not believe they will live long enough to develop dementia.

  • Between 2000 and 2019, deaths from heart disease have decreased 7.3% while deaths from Alzheimer's have increased 145%

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