April 17, 2012 — William Kang, a third-year medical student at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, conducted a study with a small group (15) of Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) patients who had never played the violin before and the results are music to the ears of Alzheimer’s patients, their families, and caregivers.  The study found that AD patients can not only learn how to play the violin, but also revealed that making music elevated the mood, energy and neuropsychiatric function of study participants.  Those in the study also demonstrated a decrease in agitation which is a common symptom of AD.  Even everyday tasks like remembering names and faces improved among the study group.  In a particularly dramatic example, one patient, who had not been able to remember the name of one of her nurses despite seeing her daily for 10 years, suddenly greeted that nurse by name after just three weeks of music therapy in the study.

According to psychiatrist Angela Scicutella, MD, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, in the Bronx, New York, and a member of the American Academy of Neurology, one reason Alzheimer’s patients respond to music might be that the part of the brain that understands music is not the first target of the disease.

“The processing of music is thought to involve frontal subcortical circuits,” said Dr. Scicutella. “The orbitofrontal cortex is important in social interactions, and the medial prefrontal cortex is important in attention and motivation of human behavior. These areas, which are more involved in the emotional aspects of human behavior, are usually preserved until later in the course of Alzheimer’s dementia, as opposed to the hippocampus and entorhinal cortex, which are involved in factual memory and are the first areas to be affected by the pathology of Alzheimer’s disease. Therefore, these cortical/subcortical circuits, which tap into brain areas that are relatively preserved, can serve as another route for learning.”

While the study group was small, the findings have potentially big implications regarding the benefits of music therapy for AD patients. 

To read the full story, please click on this link:  http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/761572