Music as a Memory Enhancer: Differences Between Healthy Older Adults and Patients With Alzheimer's Disease

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Simmons-Stern, Budson, and Ally (2010) were the first to demonstrate that visually presented song lyrics were better remembered by patients with Alzheimer's disease (AD) when accompanied by those lyrics sung rather than spoken at encoding. Surprisingly, healthy older adults showed no benefit of these musical mnemonics. Healthy older adults performed significantly better in both the sung and spoken conditions than the patients with AD. Perhaps, whenever discrimination is sufficiently high, musical mnemonics do not further aid performance. To test this possibility, we introduced a 1-week delay between study and test in a paradigm otherwise identical to the one used by Simmons-Stern et al. We successfully matched the overall discrimination performance of healthy older adults to the levels of the patients with AD in the original study but still did not find a benefit of musical mnemonics. The results of this study suggest that there may be a fundamental difference in musical encoding between patients with AD—whose memory is enhanced by musical encoding—and healthy older adults—whose memory is not—even when the two groups are matched for overall performance.

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