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UI Researchers Work to Unlock Music's Potential in Treating Alzheimer's

Andrea Mahoney
Briarwood Healthcare Center

The Alzheimer's Foundation of America says music, when used appropriately, can shift a patient's mood, help with managing stress and agitation, stimulate positive interactions, facilitate cognitive function and help with motor movements. Now, researchers at the University of Iowa are studying the extent of that effect. Alaine Reschke-Hernandez, a music therapist, and Dr. Dan Tranel, a neurologist, have teamed up to measure the impact music has on the health outcomes of Alzheimer’s patients in Iowa City. Tranel says that the study came from a previous one that observed those with Alzheimer’s remembered the emotion of a film scene even after they had forgotten the scene itself, and the fact they watched it.

“The study that Alaine is leading currently has taken this idea and basically looked at how music could be the stimulus that might prompt different emotions and cause changes in people’s emotional state that could persist even when they can’t remember, for example, the song they heard or the type of music they heard to cause them the emotion in the first place.”

The study is straightforward. Reschke-Hernandez and Tranel bring people into the laboratory, play music, and measure memory and feeling over time after the music has been introduced.

Reschke-Hernandez says that the choice of music is important.

“If I were to put on a CD that says ‘Guaranteed to relax you or make you feel better,’ I don’t know how much guarantee there can be if the person who made that CD doesn’t know what your preferences are. So for this study in the laboratory, we’re asking people to provide us a list of music that’s meaningful to them, that they know well. Music that makes them feel good or makes them feel strong emotions.”

In this Iowa Week edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with Reschke Hernandez and Tranel about the connections between music and the brain.

Also in this hour:

  • Peter Cariani, Senior Research Scientist in the Hearing Research Center at Boston University
  • Dr. Rita Charon, Professor of Medicine and Executive Director of the Program in Narrative Medicine at Columbia University

This program originally aired as part of IPR's 2016 Iowa Weekduring the month of September.

Ben Kieffer is the host of IPR's River to River