Listening to Favorite Music Improves Brain Plasticity and Cognitive Performance in Alzheimer’s Patients, Toronto Researchers Find


Newswise – November 9, 2021, TORONTO, CANADA – Researchers at the University of Toronto (U of T) and Unity Health Toronto have demonstrated that repeated listening to personally significant music induces beneficial brain plasticity in patients with the disorders mild cognitive or early Alzheimer’s disease.

Changes in neural pathways in the brain correlated with increased memory performance on neuropsychological tests, supporting the clinical potential of personalized music-based interventions for people with dementia.

The multimodal study was published today in the Alzheimer’s Disease Journal.

“We have new brain-based evidence that autobiographically salient music – that is, music that has special meaning for a person, like the song they danced to at their wedding – stimulates connectivity. neuronal so as to maintain higher levels of functioning “, says Michel Thaut, lead author of the study and director of the University of Toronto Research collaborator in music and health sciences, who is also a professor in the Faculty of Music and the Faculty of Medicine Temerty.

“Generally, it is very difficult to show positive brain changes in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. These preliminary but encouraging results show improved brain integrity, opening the door for further research into therapeutic applications of music for people with dementia – musicians and non-musicians, ”said Thaut, who holds also the Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Music, Neuroscience and Health.

The research team reported structural and functional changes in the neural pathways of study participants, most notably in the prefrontal cortex, the brain’s control center where deep cognitive processes occur. The researchers showed that exposing the brains of patients with early-stage cognitive decline to autobiographically important music activated a distinct neural network – a musical network – made up of various brain regions that showed differences in activation after a period of time. daily listening to music.

They also observed differences in brain and white matter connections, providing further evidence of neuroplasticity.

“Music-based interventions can be a feasible, cost-effective, and easily accessible intervention for people with early-stage cognitive decline,” says Corinne Fischer, senior author, director of Geriatric Psychiatry at St. Michael’s Hospital of Unity Health Toronto, and Associate Professor in the Temerty School of Medicine, University of Toronto.

“Existing treatments for Alzheimer’s disease have shown limited benefits to date. Although larger controlled studies are needed to confirm clinical benefits, our results show that an individualized, at-home approach to listening to music can be beneficial and have lasting effects on the brain.

For the study, 14 participants – eight non-musicians and six musicians – listened to a curated playlist of long-known and autobiographically relevant music for one hour a day for three weeks. Participants underwent structural and task-based functional MRI before and after the listening period to determine changes in brain function and structure. During these analyzes, they listened to clips of long-known and newly-composed music. Heard an hour before digitization, the new music was similar in style but had no personal significance.

When participants listened to recently heard and newly composed music, brain activity occurred primarily in the auditory cortex, centered on the listening experience. However, when participants listened to long-known music, there was significant activation in the deep coded network of the prefrontal cortex, a clear indication of executive cognitive engagement.

There was also a strong engagement in the subcortical brain regions, older areas little affected by the pathology of Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers reported subtle but distinct differences in the structural and functional brain changes associated with listening to music in musicians compared to non-musicians, although more studies on larger samples are needed to verify these results. . Repeated exposure to music with autobiographical salience improved cognition in all participants, regardless of musicality.

“Whether you are a long-time musician or have never played an instrument, music is a key to your memory, your prefrontal cortex,” says Thaut. “It’s simple: keep listening to the music you’ve loved all your life. Your all-time favorite songs, those tracks that are especially meaningful to you, make this your brain gym.

This document is based on a previous study in the same group of participants who first identified the brain mechanisms that encode and preserve musical memories in people with early-stage cognitive decline.

Next, the researchers plan to replicate the study in a larger sample and institute a strong control condition to study the role of musicality in moderating brain responses, and whether it is the music or the autobiographical content that is what. induces changes in plasticity.


About the University of Toronto

Founded in 1827, the University of Toronto (U of T) is the premier institution for learning, discovery and knowledge creation in Canada. One of the world’s best research-intensive universities, the U of T is home to talented thinkers, inventors, innovators and educators who advance knowledge and make discoveries essential for a more sustainable and secure future. . The University’s global perspective and its cosmopolitan location in one of the world’s great cities provide students with a transformative educational experience, providing them with the knowledge, skills and competencies to navigate our rapidly changing world.

About St. Michael’s Hospital

St. Michael’s Hospital provides compassionate care to all who pass through its doors. The hospital also offers exceptional medical training to future health professionals in more than 27 academic disciplines. Critical and Injury Care, Heart Disease, Neurosurgery, Diabetes, Cancer Care, Homeless Care and Global Health are some of the Hospital’s recognized areas of expertise. Thanks to the Keenan Research Center and Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Center, which make up the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, research and education at St. Michael’s Hospital is recognized and impacting around the world. Founded in 1892, the hospital is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.

About Unity Health Toronto

Unity Health Toronto, made up of St. Joseph’s Health Center, St. Michael’s Hospital and Providence Healthcare, works to advance the health of everyone in our urban communities and beyond. Our healthcare network serves patients, residents and clients across the spectrum of care, from primary care, secondary community care, tertiary and quaternary care, rehabilitation, palliative and post-acute care. long-term care, while investing in world-class research and education services. For more information visit

About the Alzheimer’s Disease Journal

Now in its 24th year of publication, the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease (JAD) is an international multidisciplinary journal aimed at facilitating advances in the understanding of etiology, pathogenesis, epidemiology, genetics, behavior, of the treatment and psychology of Alzheimer’s disease. The journal publishes research papers, reviews, short papers, book reviews and letters to the editor. Groundbreaking research published in the journal focuses on novel therapeutic targets, disease mechanisms and clinical trial results. JAD has a Journal Impact Factor of 4.472 according to Journal Citation Reports (Clarivate, 2021). The review is published by IOS Press.

About the IOS press

IOS Press is an independent international scientific, technical and medical (STM) publishing house established in 1987 in Amsterdam. We produce approximately 90 journals and 70 books per year in a wide range of subject categories, mainly specializing in biomedical and life sciences (including neuroscience, medical informatics, cancer research, rehabilitation) and physical sciences (including computer science, artificial intelligence, engineering). In addition, we offer specialized services that support scientific advancement.


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