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Study finds dementia may affect musical tastes

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www.ProHealth.com • January 10, 2001


Appreciating music for the first time, or switching preferences from classical to “pop” music, can be a behavior resulting from dementia, as reported in Neurology, the scientific journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

Dementia is often characterized by a loss of reasoning abilities, language skills and memory. But researchers at the National Centre for Research and Care of Alzheimers Disease in Brescia, Italy, found that two of the patients who had acquired frontotemporal dementia, subsequently acquired something new: an appreciation for a kind of music they previously disliked.

In one example cited in the study, a 68-year-old lawyer developed progressing apathy, indifference to his work, and a loss of inhibition, judgment, and speaking and abstract thinking skills. About two years after his diagnosis, he began to listen at full volume to a popular Italian pop music band. Formerly a classical music listener, he had once referred to pop music as “mere noise.”

In another example, a 73-year-old homemaker developed apathy and loss of interest in her children. About a year after her diagnosis, she developed an interest in music, where she had barely tolerated easy-listening tunes before, and began sharing her 11-year-old granddaughter's interest in pop music.

“Our patients developed a new attitude to appreciate a kind of music that they used to dislike,” said study author Giovanni B. Frisoni, MD. “Although it cannot be claimed that such behavior is specific to dementia, the behavior is unlikely in other types of dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, it never came out during history collection in any of the 1,500 new Azheimer’s patients seen in our center in the last five years, while it was detected in two of the 46 new dementia patients seen in the same period.”
Frisoni offered some possible explanations for the change in musical preferences.

First, the change of behavior could be tied to a change in one’s attitude toward novelty. “To people over age 60, pop music is considered novel. Previous studies have suggested that novelty is managed by the brain’s right frontal lobe, and a predominance of the right over the left frontal lobe might lead to novelty seeking,” he said. Second, lesions may have damaged the brain’s frontal and temporal lobe, involved in the perception of pitch, timbre, rhythm, and familiarity. Frisoni added that there is no accounting for musical taste, and that his study does not imply that pop music listeners have frontal dysfunction.

Another study by neurologists at the University of California-Los Angeles released in 1998 reported similar findings: dementia brings out artistic talents in people who never had them before. In that study, it was observed that patients developed artistic talents, including music and drawing, which flourished while the dementia worsened.

A neurologist is a medical doctor with specialized training in diagnosing, treating and managing disorders of the brain and nervous system.
The American Academy of Neurology, an association of more than 17,000 neurologists and neuroscience professionals, is dedicated to improving patient care through education and research.



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