this research addressed the question: is musical memory preserved in dementia, specifically, dementia of the Alzheimer type (AD)? Six tests involving different aspects of melody and language processing were administered to each of five groups of participants: 50 younger adults, 100 older adults, and 50 AD older adults classified into three levels of AD severity—mild, moderate and severe. No test was immune to, but not all tests were equally sensitive to, the presence of dementia. Long-term familiarity for melody was preserved across levels of AD, even at the severe stage for a few individuals. Detecting pitch distortions in melodies was possible for mild and some of the moderate AD participants. The ability to sing a melody when prompted by its lyrics was retained at the mild stage and was retained by a few individuals through the severe stages of AD. Long-term familiarity with the lyrics of familiar melodies was also found across levels of AD. In contrast, detection of grammatical distortions in the lyrics of familiar melodies and the ability to complete familiar proverbs were affected even at the mild stage of AD. We conclude that musical semantic memory may be spared through the mild and moderate stages of AD and may be preserved even in some individuals at the severe stage.
- Received August 8, 2011.
- Accepted September 28, 2011.
- © 2012 by The Regents of the University of California