Musical Skill in Dementia: A Violinist Presumed to Have Alzheimer's Disease Learns to Play a New Song






Previous studies have described patients with possible or probable Alzheimer's disease (AD) who continued to play familiar songs skillfully, despite their dementias. There are no reports about patients with dementia who successfully learned to play new songs, and two papers describe failures of patients with AD to learn to play a new song although they continued to play familiar songs competently. In the present paper we describe a moderately demented patient (SL) with probable AD who learned to play a song (Cossackaya!) on the violin that was published after the apparent onset of his dementia. He showed modest retention of the song at delays of 0 and 10 minutes. This contrasts with his profound disturbance in both recall and recognition on other anterograde memory tests (word lists, stories, figures, environmental sounds, sounds of musical instruments), and marked impairment on measures of remote memory (famous faces, autobiographical memory). SL showed milder deficits in confrontation naming, verbal fluency and attention, but no dyspraxia or aphasic comprehension deficits. Except for the Block Design test, his visuospatial skills were intact. SL's learning of the new song in the absence of any evidence of episodic memory is reminiscent of patients with temporal lobe amnesia who show better memory for song melody than for lyrics or verse, although his retention was not as good.

Music and Health Institute Terms

Alzheimer's and Related Dementias; Cognitive Abilities; Elderly; Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI); Memory; Neurodegenerative Disorders; Playing an Instrument; Recreative Music Methods; Song Reminiscence

Indexed Terms

Elderly; Elderly; Alzheimer Disease; Attention; Dementia; Language; Learning; Magnetic Resonance Imaging; Memory; Mental Recall; Neuropsychological Tests; Psychomotor Performance; Recognition, Psychology; Space Perception

Study Type

Editorial, Opinions, Position Papers

PubMed ID


Document Type