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See Inside Scientific American Mind Volume 25, Issue 4

Music Might Boost Self-Awareness in Alzheimer's Patients

Many studies have found that familiar songs enhance mood, relieve stress and reduce anxiety in patients with Alzheimer's, perhaps because musical memory is often spared even when a patient has declined to a low level of cognition. Two new studies find that familiar music also improves cognitive symptoms in the disease.



THANASIS ZOVOILIS Getty Images

Boosting Self-Awareness
Familiar music may be a safe and effective way to help patients with Alzheimer's become more self-conscious, which improves overall mental processing and leads to a more accurate examination of the world. In a study published in September 2013 by Eva M. Arroyo-Anlló of the University of Salamanca in Spain and her colleagues, patients listened to either familiar or unfamiliar music three times a week for three months. Those who heard tunes they knew showed an immediate improvement in identity, mood, moral judgment and body awareness—elements of self-consciousness that are adversely affected by Alzheimer's. Those who listened to unfamiliar music scored worse on all measures except body awareness.

The researchers also administered a common exam for dementia to test the patients' overall cognition. The group who heard familiar music sustained their scores over time, whereas the group who listened to unfamiliar music faltered significantly. According to the investigators, these findings are yet one more reason that caregivers should provide patients with music from their past.

This article was originally published with the title "New Roles for Music."

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