this research addressed the question: is musical memory preserved in dementia, specifically, dementia of the Alzheimer type (AD)? Six tests involving different aspects of melody and language processing were administered to each of five groups of participants: 50 younger adults, 100 older adults, and 50 AD older adults classified into three levels of AD severity—mild, moderate and severe. No test was immune to, but not all tests were equally sensitive to, the presence of dementia. Long-term familiarity for melody was preserved across levels of AD, even at the severe stage for a few individuals. Detecting pitch distortions in melodies was possible for mild and some of the moderate AD participants. The ability to sing a melody when prompted by its lyrics was retained at the mild stage and was retained by a few individuals through the severe stages of AD. Long-term familiarity with the lyrics of familiar melodies was also found across levels of AD. In contrast, detection of grammatical distortions in the lyrics of familiar melodies and the ability to complete familiar proverbs were affected even at the mild stage of AD. We conclude that musical semantic memory may be spared through the mild and moderate stages of AD and may be preserved even in some individuals at the severe stage.
the present study addressed episodic and semantic memory for melodies in three groups of participants: 35 younger adults, 40 older adults, and 10 individuals with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease (AD). To assess episodic memory, a study list of eight novel target melodies was presented three times, followed by a test trial in which target melodies were mixed with foil (previously unheard) melodies. Both explicit and implicit measures were obtained. Explicit memory was assessed by the accuracy of discrimination of the target melodies from the foils. Younger adults were significantly more accurate than older adults, who in turn had significantly higher scores than AD adults. Implicit memory was assessed by examining the difference in pleasantness ratings between target and foil melodies. Younger adults showed significantly greater differences in pleasantness ratings than older adults and AD adults; scores for the two latter groups did not differ. To assess semantic memory, participants were asked to identify traditional melodies within a series of traditional and novel melodies. In contrast to the episodic memory results, all three groups showed very high scores on the semantic memory task with no significant differences among groups. The results support the notion that, though other forms of musical memory may be compromised, semantic memory for melody may be preserved in normal aging and in AD.