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Listening to favourite music improves brain function in Alzheimer’s patients

University of Toronto: “Repeated listening to personally meaningful music induces beneficial brain plasticity in patients with mild cognitive impairment or early Alzheimer’s disease, a new study by researchers at the University of Toronto and Unity Health Toronto suggests. Changes in the brain’s neural pathways correlated with increased memory performance on neuropsychological tests, supporting the clinical potential of personalized, music-based interventions for people with dementia. The multi-modal study was published this week in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. “We have new brain-based evidence that autobiographically salient music – that is, music that holds special meaning for a person, like the song they danced to at their wedding – stimulates neural connectivity in ways that help maintain higher levels of functioning,” says Michael Thaut, senior author of the study, director of U of T’s Music and Health Science Research Collaboratory and a professor in both the Faculty of Music and Temerty Faculty of Medicine. “Typically, it’s very difficult to show positive brain changes in Alzheimer’s patients. These preliminary yet encouraging results show improvement in the integrity of the brain, opening the door to further research on therapeutic applications of music for people with dementia – musicians and non-musicians alike,” says Thaut, who also holds the tier one Canada Research Chair in Music, Neuroscience and Health. The researchers reported structural and functional changes in neural pathways of study participants, notably in the prefrontal cortex, the brain’s control centre where deep cognitive processes occur. The researchers showed that exposing the brains of patients with early-stage cognitive decline to autobiographically salient music activated a distinct neural network – a musical network – composed of diverse brain regions that showed differences in activation after a period of daily music listening.”

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