Music-based Memory Enhancement in Alzheimer's Disease: Promise and Limitations






In a previous study (Simmons-Stern, Budson & Ally, 2010), we found that patients with Alzheimer's disease (AD) better recognized visually presented lyrics when the lyrics were also sung rather than spoken at encoding. The present study sought to further investigate the effects of music on memory in patients with AD by making the content of the song lyrics relevant for the daily life of an older adult and by examining how musical encoding alters several different aspects of episodic memory. Patients with AD and healthy older adults studied visually presented novel song lyrics related to instrumental activities of daily living (IADL) that were accompanied by either a sung or a spoken recording. Overall, participants performed better on a memory test of general lyric content for lyrics that were studied sung as compared to spoken. However, on a memory test of specific lyric content, participants performed equally well for sung and spoken lyrics. We interpret these results in terms of a dual-process model of recognition memory such that the general content questions represent a familiarity-based representation that is preferentially sensitive to enhancement via music, while the specific content questions represent a recollection-based representation unaided by musical encoding. Additionally, in a test of basic recognition memory for the audio stimuli, patients with AD demonstrated equal discrimination for sung and spoken stimuli. We propose that the perceptual distinctiveness of musical stimuli enhanced metamemorial awareness in AD patients via a non-selective distinctiveness heuristic, thereby reducing false recognition while at the same time reducing true recognition and eliminating the mnemonic benefit of music. These results are discussed in the context of potential music-based memory enhancement interventions for the care of patients with AD.

Music and Health Institute Terms

Alzheimer's and Related Dementias; Cognitive Abilities; Elderly; Memory; Neurodegenerative Disorders; Receptive Music Methods; Singing a Song; Song Communication

Indexed Terms

Acoustic Stimulation; Elderly; Elderly; Alzheimer Disease; Analysis of Variance; Memory Disorders; Neuropsychological Tests; Photic Stimulation; Recognition, Psychology

Study Type

Quasi-Experimental Study; Quantitative Methods

PubMed ID


Document Type