Alzheimer's Patients Identify Famous Tunes Better than Semantic Dementia Patients

People suffering from semantic dementia are less likely to remember well-known melodies such as Happy Birthday in comparison to Alzheimer's patients.

According to researchers in Sydney, people suffering from semantic dementia are less likely to remember well-known melodies such as Happy Birthday and the national anthem in comparison to regular dementia and Alzheimer’s disease patients.

Over the course of this study, which was focused on memory loss in patients with dementia, the researchers located the region of the brain which houses the memories of the tunes; this discovery is profound as it offers previously-unknown information concerning the structure and function of this particular area of the brain.

Neuroscientist Olivier Piguet and colleagues focused on dementia participants, including Alzheimer's disease patients, and compared their ability to recognize famous songs to this ability in healthy individuals.

They played well-known melodies such as the national anthem, Christmas carols, folksy tunes, and various instrumental compositions.

The participants were then asked to select the names of the famous songs being played off of a list; the list including real song titles, such as Waltzing Matilda, but it also incorporated fake titles that were created by the researchers.

The researchers discovered that the ability to recognize and identify the titles of the melodies—or in some cases even the famous songs themselves—was severely impaired in patients suffering from a specific type of dementia known as semantic dementia in comparison to healthy individuals and participants with Alzheimer’s without semantic dementia.

Piguet, a senior research fellow at Neuroscience Research Australia, reported that the results were similar when the participants were asked to identify environmental sounds, such as laughing and coughing. This indicates that this region of the brain is not connected solely to music, but to all manners of familiar sounds.

This region of the brain was located when the researchers took magnetic resonance images of the participants' brains. The found the region, known as the right anterior temporal lobe, behind the right ear. In patients with semantic dementia, they discovered that it had shrunk in comparison to patients suffering from Alzheimer's disorder and healthy control participants.

Piguet reported that the more the region had shrunk, the more a participant’s memory for famous songs and faces was impaired.

These findings are published in the journal Brain.