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Can listening to the Beatles improve your memory?

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When Paul McCartney wrote “Get Back,” he never predicted how useful or relevant the song would become for music therapists.

The song’s chorus – “Go back to where you once belonged” – could just as well be a therapist encouraging a patient with dementia to recall a distant memory. In new research, Psyche Louisassociate professor of music, attempts to do just that.

Posted in of nature Scientific reports, Loui found that in older people who listened to some of their favorite music, including the Beatles, connectivity in the brain increased. Specifically, Loui and his multidisciplinary team of music therapists, neurologists, and geriatric psychiatrists discovered that music bridges the gap between the brain’s auditory system and the reward system, the domain that governs motivation.

“There’s something about music that’s this functional connectivity between the auditory system and the reward system, and that’s why music is so special and able to tap into these seemingly very general cognitive functions that are suddenly very engaged. in people with dementia who hear music. said Loui, who leads the Music Imaging and Neural Dynamics Lab.

The original idea for this research came from Loui’s own experiences playing music in retirement homes. She recalled how people who couldn’t finish a sentence or a thought would suddenly tune in and sing along to a song she was playing.

“[Music] seems to engage the brain in this way that is unlike anything else, Loui said.

Researchers asked a group of Boston-area adults aged 54 to 89 to listen to a playlist for an hour each day for eight weeks and keep a diary of their reaction to the music afterward. . Loui and the team scanned participants’ brains before and after listening to measure their neurological response.

The playlists were highly personalized and featured a combination of participants’ self-selected songs, ranging from The Beatles to Bruce Springsteen, and a pre-selected mix of classic pieces, pop and rock songs and new compositions created by teacher Hubert Ho. aggregate. music at Northeastern. Participants then rated each song according to their level of appreciation and familiarity.

“The most important lesson we learned from the music therapist is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution for what type of music works best,” Loui said.

What the researchers found was striking: the music essentially created an auditory canal directly to the medial prefrontal cortex, the brain’s reward center. Notably, the medial prefrontal cortex “is one of the areas that loses activity and functional connectivity in aging adults, particularly in people with dementia,” Loui said.

Music that was both familiar and loved tended to activate the auditory and reward areas more. However, the music that the participants chose themselves provided an even stronger connection between these two areas of the brain.

“This could be the central mechanism for the changes that occur in the brain when you listen to music and when you listen to music consistently, persistently, and consciously during an intervention,” Loui said.

Loui hopes this study, which is one of the first to document neurological changes resulting from prolonged exposure to a music-based intervention, could have a significant impact in a field that has rapidly grown in importance. The National Institute of Health is currently pushing initiatives around music therapy, and AARP’s Global Council on Brain Health recently convened a panel, on which Loui sat, to examine the evidence for the influence of music on health. of the brain. The panel finally recommendations formed to learn how people over 50 can incorporate music into their lives to promote mental well-being.

Music’s ability to calm the elderly and those with mental illness is well documented, Louis said; but what is less known is how and to what extent music can help improve memory, cognition and executive functions.

“It’s something we’re working on right now, and I think there might be something about music being an art that unfolds over time,” Loui said. “For example, you listen to a beat, then you can tap your feet to the beat. This type of process engages the brain’s reward systems and cognitive systems in ways that could benefit long-term cognitive function.

In the future, Loui hopes to extend her study to older people with cognitive and neurodegenerative disorders, people who could benefit even more from the effects of music therapy.

“We’re trying to design these new therapies to take advantage of the rhythmic properties of music and the rhythmic properties of the brain,” Loui said, “and tuning neuronal populations to the acoustic cues of music might be useful for improving cognition. .”

For media inquiriesplease contact Marirose Sartoretto at [email protected] or 617-373-5718.