Music therapy and Alzheimer's disease
Exposing the brain to music requires very complex neural circuits. For patients with Alzheimer's disease, music can reactivate the residual memory capacity with surprising results. Hervé Platel tells us more.
Over the past twenty years, the evolution of neuroimaging techniques has made it possible to precisely identify the effects and modifications that music can cause in our brain. Hervé Platel is one of the first to have identified the brain networks which are involved in the music perception and memorization, particularly with patients affected by Alzheimer's disease:
"Music easily captures our attention: when there is music around, the brain synchronizes itself very naturally. Furthermore, music pathways to the brain are much more complex that speech ones and mobilize different regions: music stimulates, relaxes, calms pain, but also has the ability to increase brain flexibility and can induce change in synaptic connections."
Music activates much larger areas of the brain, and solicits both hemispheres. As a result, damaged regions from Alzheimer's disease can be compensated by other areas which have been preserved. Listening to music also acts on emotions and has a stimulating effect on the production of dopamine:
"Mere exposure of patients with Alzheimer's disease to music helps them combat lethargy, because it activates their reward circuits. "
SO patients can remember old melodies, but what surprised researchers even more is that exposure to music allows patients to reactivate learning abilities that were considered lost:
« We have found in patients with Alzheimer's disease undergoing music therapy that it successfully activates residual memory capacities: while we work under the impression that patients no longer have any memory, they manage to retain new melodies and are able to reproduce them, even if they don’t memorize the lyrics."
Yet, music does not heal:
« In the case of Alzheimer type neurodegenerative diseases, music therapy will indeed delay the effects of the disease, but it has no impact on the healing itself and it will not create sustainable compensating circuits. For the moment, no treatment can cure such disease and the social link remains a key element to improving the patients' daily lives. "Disease progression is unfortunately inevitable, but music therapy brings a sense of well-being and improves their quality of life, and that is undeniable."
►► In 2013, Inserm produced the series Les Allegros Alzheimer to understand the influence of music on the brain, which you can view here.