Will music be the key to unlocking Alzheimer's?

Alzheimer’s disease is an irreversible degenerative disorder in which a specific type of plaque accumulates in the brain and leads to brain wasting, memory loss, and inability to function. This disease has devastating effects for the sufferers and for their families and current treatments remain stubbornly ineffective. Despite the otherwise severe limitations many patients with advanced Alzheimer’s have a preserved response to music; including foot tapping and spontaneous smiles or tears. For the families of Alzheimer’s patients this phenomenon is soothing, but until now has not been clinically useful.

With improvements in functional MRI (fMRI) the brain can be imaged in action. Since music is unique in how it activates almost every region of a healthy brain it can be used as a roadmap of memory and brain function. This allows us to see what is happening in the areas of an Alzheimer’s brain that continue to function despite massive plaques. Clarifying how Alzheimer’s affects the entire brain and isolating the factor that makes some regions more resistant to damage may help advance the search for a cure.

F. Ashton Taylor, MS4, MWU AZCOM

Dave Carfagno, CO, CAQSM Scottsdale Sports Medicine

References:

Clark, Camilla N., Jason Warren, Music, Memory and Mechanisms in Alzheimer’s Disease, Brain. 2015; 138(8):2122-2125