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Can music help Alzheimer's patients build memories?

May 17, 2010

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Music triggers memories, even for people with Alzheimer’s disease. A big band recording can help them remember their lives when the song was new. But a new study from Boston researchers suggests that music can also help them form new memories.

Boston University neuroscientist Brandon Ally and his colleagues tested 13 people diagnosed with early Alzheimer’s and 14 healthy adults of similar age to see how well they could recognize lyrics to new, unfamiliar children’s songs. The participants were shown four lines of rhyming lyrics for each of 40 songs on a computer screen. For half the songs, a woman sang the lyrics; for the other half she recited them. After about 10 minutes, the participants were shown lyrics for 40 new songs and the 40 they had previously seen and asked if they recognized them.

People with Alzheimer’s correctly recognized 40 percent of the songs they heard sung compared with 28 percent of songs whose lyrics they heard spoken. The healthy adults didn’t show as much of a difference, recognizing 77 percent of spoken versus 74 percent of sung lyrics. The authors think that the Alzheimer’s patients were drawing on parts of the brain not affected by early memory loss that may respond to music.

If music can help Alzheimer’s patients learn new information, it could help with such tasks as remembering names or when to take daily medications, Ally said, which could allow people to live independently longer during the early stages of the disease.

BOTTOM LINE: People with early Alzheimer’s disease were more likely to recognize song lyrics if they had recently heard them sung rather than spoken, suggesting music may help them form new memories.

CAUTIONS: This was a small, preliminary study.

WHAT’S NEXT: The researchers are exploring what it is about music — the melody, the rhyme, the rhythm — that seems to enhance memory.

WHERE TO FIND IT: Neuropsychologia, online May 10

Higher protein intake linked to fewer hip fractures

Hip fractures are a serious danger for older people, often leading to death. Research studies have reached conflicting conclusions about whether diet has an effect on the likelihood of breaking bones. A new study reports an association between how much protein older people ate and their risk of hip fracture.

Marian Hannan and colleagues from Boston University and the Institute for Aging Research at Hebrew SeniorLife studied 946 men and women enrolled in the Framingham Osteoporosis Study. Their average age was 75 and they completed annual questionnaires about their diet and health. The researchers divided them into four groups based on how much protein they said they ate. After 11 years, 80 of the women and 20 of the men had broken their hips.

People in the top three groups for protein intake — which all met recommended levels —had a 37 percent lower risk of hip fracture compared with the people in the lowest protein group, which was below recommended levels. The authors say that people who ate more protein may have built stronger leg muscles, helping them avoid falls.

Hannan said older people should eat at least 46 grams a day of protein for women and 56 grams for men.

BOTTOM LINE: Older people who ate more protein had a lower risk of hip fracture compared to similar people who ate less protein.

CAUTIONS: The study subjects were mostly Caucasians, so the results may not apply to people from other ethnic or racial groups.

WHERE TO FIND IT: Osteoporosis International, online May 5

ELIZABETH COONEY

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