MONDAY, April 30, 2018 (HealthDay News) -- Music therapy might help ease the anxiety and agitation that plagues many Alzheimer's patients, researchers suggest.
"People with dementia are confronted by a world that is unfamiliar to them, which causes disorientation and anxiety," said study co-author Dr. Jeff Anderson, an associate professor of radiology at the University of Utah Health.
"We believe music will tap into the salience network of the brain that is still relatively functioning," he added in a university news release.
The researchers described the salience network as the region of the brain responsible when your body feels, say, chills after listening to a moving piece of music. This region is generally spared by the memory loss associated with Alzheimer's, they said.
Anderson and his colleagues conducted brain scans of 17 Alzheimer's patients and found that music triggered communication between the salience network and a number of other brain networks.
"This is objective evidence from brain imaging that shows personally meaningful music is an alternative route for communicating with patients who have Alzheimer's disease," said senior study author Dr. Norman Foster, director of the Center for Alzheimer's Care at the University of Utah.
"Language and visual memory pathways are damaged early as the disease progresses, but personalized music programs can activate the brain, especially for patients who are losing contact with their environment," Foster noted.
Anderson added: "In our society, the diagnoses of dementia are snowballing and are taxing resources to the max. No one says playing music will be a cure for Alzheimer's disease, but it might make the symptoms more manageable, decrease the cost of care and improve a patient's quality of life."
The study was published online in the April issue of The Journal of Prevention of Alzheimer's Disease.
The U.S. National Institute on Aging has more about Alzheimer's disease.