What is it about?

Individuals with Alzheimer's disease and healthy older adults listened to music they knew well that made them feel either happy/positive or sad/negative emotions. After listening to about 5 minutes of music, participants self-reported feeling the expected emotion (happy with happy music, sad with sad music). These emotions persisted for up to 20 minutes. However, the Alzheimer's patients demonstrated significantly impaired memory for the cause of their emotions.

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Why is it important?

This study illustrates the importance of considering that emotion-inducing events impact people whether they remember what happened to them or not. This implies that the manner in which we treat and engage with individuals with Alzheimer's and related dementias (significant memory impairment) matters. It is the third study in this line of research, but the first to demonstrate this intriguing dissociation between memory and emotion using familiar music as the stimulus.


It is truly important to consider the perspective of the person listening to the music, what they value, what is important to them, and the experiences they have associated with that music. It is further important to remember that music listening can have unintended side effects (such as prolonged negative emotions). It is difficult to predict what someone will respond to, and how they will respond. Many of the healthy participants commented on how surprised they were by the strong feelings of emotion they experienced in a lab setting after just a few minutes of listening. How we use music in a therapeutic setting is important to consider, in terms of the intersection of the listener, the context, the person providing the music, sociocultural and ethical implications, an how we present the music so that it is accessible. I implore those who read this perspective to remember that headphones can increase social isolation for those who are already socially isolated, and that those with dementia may want to turn off or change the music but not remember how to operate the device used for music listening or effectively communicate their wants and needs.

Alaine Reschke-Hernandez
University of Kentucky

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Hooked on a Feeling: Influence of Brief Exposure to Familiar Music on Feelings of Emotion in Individuals with Alzheimer’s Disease, Journal of Alzheimer s Disease, November 2020, IOS Press, DOI: 10.3233/jad-200889.
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