Monday, October 18, 2021

Music Therapy for Alzheimer’s Disease

Musical therapy can help in memory preservation explains Dr Noor Gill and writes on a study linking it with Alzheimer’s disease

‘Music to my ears’ is our way of expressing how grateful we are for chicken lasagna for lunch. But there is now a study that says that the music to your ears can also reach and help your brain.

What is dementia?

Dementia is a public health problem that affects approximately 50 million people worldwide. It is a non-specific group of thinking and social symptoms that interferes with the daily functioning of the patient.

There are several causes of dementia, and the diagnosis of a patient with dementia depends on the knowledge of the different clinical manifestations and on a sequence of specific complementary investigations. The four most common forms of dementia are-

  1. Alzheimer’s Disease (AD)
  2. Vascular Dementia (VD)
  3. Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD)
  4. Dementia with Lewy’s bodies

For us to conclude that apatient has dementia, the cognitive or behavioural changes should affect at least two of the following-

  • Memory
  • Executive functions
  • Visual-spatial skills
  • Language
  • Personality disorders
  • Orbehaviour with symptoms such as mood swings, agitation, apathy, disinterest, and social isolation


What is Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s Disease is a progressive disease that destroys and interferes with memory and other important mental and cognitive functions. Alzheimer’s Disease is thought to be caused by an abnormal build-up of proteins in and around brain cells. One of the proteins involved is called amyloid, deposits of which form plaques around brain cells, thereby interfering with the memory and other behavioural and cognitive functions.


Does music therapy help in patients with Alzheimer’s ?

In Alzheimer’s Disease, the ability to recognise music remains relatively preserved, and patients’ musical memory can be spared, particularly at the onset of the disease.

The human memory system involves a process of coding, storing, and retrieving information. Musical memory can be defined as the neural coding of musical experiences, the storage of these experiences, and the subsequent recall of this information.

A study by Jacobsen et al. (2015) involving AD and music indicated a greater preservation of brain areas involved in the processing of music. The authors found that musical memory seems to be partially independent of other memory systems, and in Alzheimer’s disease, musical memory may be partially preserved.

Neural mechanisms and substrates of musical memory involve different anatomical brain networks. Different aspects of musical memory may remain intact while brain anatomy and cognitive functions are impaired.

In addition, regions related to musical memory showed a minimal level of atrophy (damage and death of the cells) and disruption of glucose metabolism compared to the rest of the brain. Therefore, β-amyloid deposition in these regions is at an early stage in the expected course of the development of biomarkers for AD and is relatively well preserved. These results drawn by the NBCI explain the surprising preservation of musical memory in Alzheimer’s disease.

Here’s how the trial went, to give you a better picture: each participant was randomly assigned to either a beginner meditation or music-listening programme and asked to practise 12 minutes per day for 12 weeks. At the beginning of the trial and three months into it, blood samples were drawn and measured for two markers of cellular ageing and levels of beta-amyloid peptide (specific to Alzheimer’s disease) were measured.

In addition, memory and cognitive function, stress, sleep, mood and quality of life were measured. All participants were followed for a total of six months and showed a rise in the key beta-amyloid levels.

The rise in the beta amyloid levels were correlated with improvements in memory and cognitive function, as well as with those in mood, sleep and quality of life at both three and six months.


How can music really help?

Music has been helping us in strikingly life altering ways. It has been known to relieve stress, reduce agitation and lift out moods. Now research also suggests that listening to songs can provide emotional and behavioural benefits for people with Alzheimer’s Disease and other types of dementia.This is because the key brain areas linked to musical memory are relatively undamaged by Alzheimer’s Disease, thereby preserving the memories associated to songs.

Treatment with music has shown effectiveness in the treatment of general behavioural and cognitive symptoms of patients with various types of dementia.

A study conducted by NCBI, involving 179 patients showed the benefits of using music to treat memory deficit in patients with Alzheimer’s Disease.

Studies with musical intervention have demonstrated the efficacy of treatment for the behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia, such as agitation, irritability, depression, and apathy.

All this news does ring like ‘music to our ears’ but we need to keep in mind that music might not affect your loved one’s cognitive status or quality of life, it can only help them remember better.

Dr Noor Gill
Dr Noor Gill, MBBS, deciphers the space between heartbeats, figuratively and literally. Powered by frequent long naps and caffeine, she believes that “knowledge without giving back to society is meaningless” and works to make caring cool again.

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