The objective of this study was to determine whether exposure to long-known music would evoke more extensive activation of brain regions minimally affected by Alzheimer disease (AD) pathology and outside traditional memory networks using a functional magnetic resonance imaging paradigm involving listening to long-known and recently-learned music in older adults with cognitive impairment to provide insight into mechanisms of long-term musical memory preservation in cognitively impaired older persons.
Seventeen subjects with a diagnosis of mild AD or mild cognitive impairment were recruited for this study. Subjects were scanned using functional magnetic resonance imaging while they performed a music listening task, which included short clips of personally selected music from the patient’s past and newly-composed music heard for the first time 60 minutes before scanning. From this task, we obtained group-level maps comparing brain areas associated with long-known and recently-heard music in all subjects.
Exposure to long-known music preferentially activated brain regions including the medial prefrontal cortex, precuneus, anterior insula, basal ganglia, hippocampus, amygdala, and cerebellum relative to recently-heard music. These areas are involved in autobiographical memory and associated emotional responses. In addition, they are minimally affected by early stage AD pathology, thus providing a neural basis for long-known musical memory survival.
Long-known music activates a bilateral network of prefrontal, emotional, motor, auditory, and subcortical regions (cerebellum, putamen, limbic structures). This extensive activation, relative to recently-heard music, may offer structural and functional clues as to why long-term musical memory appears to be relatively preserved among cognitively impaired older persons.