Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Just Two More Days
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The Power of Singing
“an aid to  improve brain function in the elderly”

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We’ve shared statements on the power of singing to heal and to aid learning. Can singing also improve brain function in the elderly?

Psychologists have long thought that music and language are quite different brain functions, that the left-brain is verbal and logical while the right brain is more involved in art, music, and emotion. As we saw in our last post, Dr. Aniruddh D. Patel is challenging this with his research into overlap and prediction.

“Song combines music and words, and word production is a left hemisphere-biased activity,” says psychologist Patel. “Perhaps doing lots of singing strengthens the brain networks involved in word production and articulation, in addition to the right hemisphere circuits involved in fine control of pitch and melody.”

Patel asks, “Could singing be neuroprotective?” “Could regular singing have a lasting impact on brain function?” If you are musically trained, are you better at predicting what’s coming up next in a sentence?” He posits, “For older adults in crowded environments, where understanding speech is challenging, better prediction abilities might help them anticipate which word is coming next.”

Dr. Gottfried Schlaug at Harvard Medical School has done MRIs of older healthy adults, dividing them into groups of singers and non-singers. The group of singers showed greater connections between areas of the brain than the non-musician group, with the strongest difference on the left side.
Gottfried Schlaug

Studies by Petr Janata and colleagues at UC Davis found that music that was familiar, pleasing, and evocative of autobiographical memories was processed predominantly in the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, one of the areas of the brain slower to atrophy with Alzheimer's disease.

“Music provides a way to access regions of the brain and reawaken autobiographical memory when language won’t,” Patel says.

Early results suggest that the strongest effects of music therapy may be on patients’ emotions, particularly their anxiety levels. “The music does not ameliorate the cognitive effects of the dementia,” Patel says, “but it does have a strong impact on a patient’s emotional state, and potentially on quality of life.”

Moreover, neuroscientist Julene Johnson, a professor at the Institute for Health and Aging at the University of California, San Francisco, is now investigating the possible cognitive, motor, and physical benefits garnered by older adults who begin singing in a choir after the age of 60.

Julene Johnson

"Musical training seems to have a beneficial impact at whatever age you start. It contains all the components of a cognitive training program that sometimes are overlooked, and just as we work out our bodies, we should work out our minds."

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