Background music could improve the memory of those with Alzheimer's
The Cognitive Neurolab of the Faculty of Health Sciences at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC), led by Marco Calabria, is doing research to determine whether persons with Alzheimer's disease and cognitive impairment can also benefit from music. The study's primary objective over the course of three years, dubbed "The Mozart Effect and Memory in Patients with Cognitive Impairment (MEM-COG)," is to determine whether music can be used to facilitate or enhance learning in individuals with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or mild Alzheimer's disease (AD). Additionally, it will examine which parts of music are critical for producing a cognitive benefit. In other words, what types of music – calming or revitalising – and at what periods are most beneficial: for example, during the phase during which we acquire new knowledge or during the phase during which we recover previously acquired information. Calabria, who holds a PhD in Psychology from the University of Padua, explained, "it is critical to distinguish between these two features, as they entail distinct memory processes, and this study will decide when music is most beneficial."
It should be noted that while there is evidence that music can improve performance on memory, learning, and attention-related tasks, as the UOC researcher points out, "the majority of these studies were conducted on healthy individuals, and we don't know if music could be used as a complementary tool for cognitively stimulating those with memory deficits." These neurodegenerative disorders are characterised by difficulties with memory formation, and music may aid in the consolidation of new learning."
Patients will be recruited from Barcelona's Hospital de Sant Pau as well as SINGULAR Musica & Alzheimer, a centre specialising in the rehabilitation and cognitive stimulation of adults with Alzheimer's disease through music. The first phase of the study will involve individuals performing memory exercises while listening to classical music. They will be required to learn and recall unfamiliar faces. Calabria notes that classical music is chosen because "it is a type of music that is both calming and energising, and has been shown to be the most effective at boosting memory." Additionally, the absence of lyrics means that there is less interference from verbal information with the content that participants will need to acquire for the memory tasks." Additionally, the objective is to follow the same methods as past research on the subject with healthy participants.
In phase two, researchers will use music that participants are familiar with (popular and folk music) to determine "if the fact that they enjoy it more could raise their emotional components, resulting in increased memory benefits."
Given that currently available pharmacological treatments have a relatively limited effect on cognition, it is critical to make other types of therapy – such as music – available that may improve affected people's cognitive state. Calabria and the rest of the research team hope to use the findings to develop specific guidelines to aid in the restoration of some of the memory lost by these patients: which types of people benefit most from music, what type of music to use, and at what point in the learning process it should be played to obtain the greatest therapeutic benefits.
"The Mozart Effect and Memory Impairment in Patients with Cognitive Impairment (MEM-COG)" is one of ten UOC projects sponsored by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation's research and innovation initiative targeted at addressing society's concerns.