Listening to Favorite Music Repeatedly Induces Beneficial Brain Plasticity in Alzheimer’s Patients


Researchers at the University of Toronto (U of T) and Unity Health Toronto have shown that repeated listening to personally significant music induces beneficial brain plasticity in patients with mild cognitive impairment or disease. Early Alzheimer’s.

Changes in neural pathways in the brain correlated with increased memory performance on neuropsychological tests, supporting the clinical potential of personalized music-based interventions for people with dementia.

The multimodal study was published today in the Alzheimer’s Disease Journal.

“We have new brain-based evidence that autobiographically salient music – that is, music that has special meaning for a person, like the song they danced to at their wedding – stimulates the neural connectivity in ways that help maintain higher levels of functioning, “says Michael Thaut, lead author of the study and director of the University of Toronto’s Music and Health Sciences Research Collaborative, which is also professor at the Faculty of Music and at the Faculty of Medicine Temerty.

“Generally, it is very difficult to show positive brain changes in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. These preliminary but encouraging results show an improvement in brain integrity, opening the door to further research into the therapeutic applications of music for people with dementia -; musicians, not musicians, ”says Thaut, who is also the Tier One Canada Research Chair in Music, Neuroscience and Health.

The research team reported structural and functional changes in the neural pathways of study participants, most notably in the prefrontal cortex, the brain’s control center where deep cognitive processes occur. The researchers showed that exposing the brains of patients with early cognitive decline to important autobiographical music activated a distinct neural network -; a musical network -; composed of various regions of the brain that showed differences in activation after a period of daily listening to music.

They also observed differences in brain and white matter connections, providing further evidence of neuroplasticity.

Music-based interventions can be a feasible, cost-effective, and easily accessible intervention for people with early-stage cognitive decline. “

Corinne Fischer, Senior Author, Director of Geriatric Psychiatry at St. Michael’s Hospital of Unity Health Toronto and Associate Professor, Temerty School of Medicine, University of Toronto

“Existing treatments for Alzheimer’s disease have shown limited benefit to date. Although larger controlled studies are needed to confirm clinical benefits, our results show that an individualized, at-home approach to listening to music can be beneficial and have lasting effects on the brain. “

For the study, 14 participants -; eight non-musicians and six musicians -; Listened to an organized playlist of long-known and autobiographically relevant music for one hour a day for three weeks. Participants underwent structural and task-based functional MRI before and after the listening period to determine changes in brain function and structure. During these analyzes, they listened to clips of long-known and newly-composed music. Heard an hour before digitization, the new music was similar in style but had no personal significance.

When participants listened to recently heard and newly composed music, brain activity occurred primarily in the auditory cortex, centered on the listening experience. However, when participants listened to long-known music, there was significant activation in the deep coded network of the prefrontal cortex, a clear indication of executive cognitive engagement.

There was also a strong engagement in the subcortical brain regions, older areas little affected by the pathology of Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers reported subtle but distinct differences in the structural and functional brain changes associated with listening to music in musicians compared to non-musicians, although more studies on larger samples are needed to verify these results. . Repeated exposure to music with autobiographical salience improved cognition in all participants, regardless of musicality.

“Whether you are a long-time musician or have never played an instrument, music is a key to your memory, your prefrontal cortex,” says Thaut. “It’s simple – keep listening to the music you’ve loved all your life. Your all-time favorite songs, those tracks that are particularly meaningful to you – make them your brain gymnastics.”

This article builds on a previous study in the same group of participants that first identified the brain mechanisms that encode and preserve musical memories in people with early-stage cognitive decline.

Next, the researchers plan to replicate the study in a larger sample and institute a strong control condition to study the role of musicality in moderating brain responses, and whether it is the music or the autobiographical content that is what. induces changes in plasticity.


Journal reference:

Fischer, CE, et al. (2021) Long-known effects of music exposure on brain imaging and cognition in the early stages of cognitive decline: a pilot study. Alzheimer’s Disease Journal.


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