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Neuropsychol Rev. 2009 Mar;19(1):85-101. doi: 10.1007/s11065-009-9085-2. Epub 2009 Feb 13.

Memory for music in Alzheimer's disease: unforgettable?

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Department of Psychology, University Lille-Nord de France & La Salpetriere Hospital, Paris, France.


The notion that memory for music can be preserved in patients with Alzheimer's Disease (AD) has been raised by a number of case studies. In this paper, we review the current research examining musical memory in patients with AD. In keeping with models of memory described in the non-musical domain, we propose that various forms of musical memory exist, and may be differentially impaired in AD, reflecting the pattern of neuropathological changes associated with the condition. Our synthesis of this literature reveals a dissociation between explicit and implicit musical memory functions. Implicit, specifically procedural musical memory, or the ability to play a musical instrument, can be spared in musicians with AD. In contrast, explicit musical memory, or the recognition of familiar or unfamiliar melodies, is typically impaired. Thus, the notion that music is unforgettable in AD is not wholly supported. Rather, it appears that the ability to play a musical instrument may be unforgettable in some musicians with AD.

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