Singing becomes a solution to improve brain function and prevent age-related cognitive disorders. Credit: © glenda, Shutterstock

Ask someone in the choir why they like it and they will tell you about the euphoric impact of singing on their mental health. A team of neurologists and clinical psychologists from the University of Helsinki (Finland) believes that these benefits can extend to improving brain function and treating aphasia.

Professor Teppo Serkamyo studies how aging affects how singing is handled brainwhich may have important therapeutic applications. “We know a lot about speech processing, but we know little about singing. We are studying how different functions related to singing can be preserved in many neurological diseases, ”he explained.

For people with aphasia, a condition that severely impairs communication and is usually caused by a stroke, communication may be nearly impossible as they struggle to utter the right words. However, thanks to a technique known as “melodic intonation therapy” – when people are asked to sing a daily phrase instead of saying it – they often find a voice.

Coordinator of PREMUS As part of the project, Professor Sarkyamyo and his team are using similar techniques, extending the approach through specially led “choirs of older people” involving patients with aphasia and their families. Scientists are studying how singing can play an important rehabilitative role in cases of aphasia and can prevent decreased cognitive abilities too.

Clicking on the right notes

The PREMUS study is coordinated with the local organization of aphasia in Helsinki and includes about 25 people in the choir, both patients with aphasia and their families. Test results show encouraging results.

“Ultimately, the goal of our work with people with aphasia is to use singing as a tool to teach speech production and ultimately allow them to communicate without singing. But through choirs we are beginning to see this approach translated into people’s daily lives as an important tool. communication, ”Sarkyamo said.

Along with the Aphasia Choir, the team also conducted extensive MRI scans of the brains of young, middle-aged and older people participating in the choirs to understand why singing is so important at different stages of life. Their results show that as we age, the brain networks involved in singing undergo less changes than those that process speech, suggesting that singing is more common in the brain and more resistant to aging.

Their research also shows that active singing, as opposed to listening to, for example, choral music, is very important. “When you sing, you engage the frontal and parietal systems of the brain, where you regulate your own behavior, and you use more of your motor and cognitive resources in terms of voice control and executive functions,” Sarkamyo said.

Early results of Fr. longitudinal studyin which neurocognitive functioning was compared between members of older choirs and healthy ones older people (non-singers) have shown the positive impact of singing on cognitive and auditory functioning and the importance of the social interaction it brings, which may help delay the onset of dementia.

Choir members performed better in neuropsychological tests, reported less cognitive difficulties, and had higher social integration. Measurements of the electroencephalogram of the same groups suggest that choral singers had more developed abilities to process higher-level hearing, especially for combining the height and location of information in the fronto-temporal areas of the brain, which Sarkyamo attributes to the complexity of the sound environment. chorus singing.

The next step will be to repeat and expand this work involving senior choirs for patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and to develop large-scale clinical trials to test the effect. However, with Alzheimer’s disease the problem may be different: while patients may remember songs from their past, Sarkyame is not sure to what extent they can learn and save new lyrics.

He is both optimistic and realistic about this work. “It’s all about trying to stimulate the rest of the network in the brain. We believe that singing can help restore some of these functions, but of course with Alzheimer’s it’s a severe, progressive disorder, so it’s a matter of more time and attempts to slow down the pattern of decline ».

The same song

Someone else who is firmly focused on responding to the aging population is Christian A. Drevon, a professor of medicine at the University of Oslo (Norway). Drevon is an expert in biomarkers and is now using his expertise to understand the various factors affecting neurocognitive functions in EU-funded Lifebrain project.

“Most research on Alzheimer’s is cross-cutting when you take a group of people, look at a specific time, and associate certain things with those who have the disease and those who don’t,” he explained. “However, this is often not the causal cause; you cannot say whether it is the cause of the disease or whether it is simply a consequence of it.”

To really understand what happens to Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, data is needed for people covering periods both when they are healthy and when they are not healthy to figure out what went wrong. To deal with this issue is the main goal of Lifebrain, coordinated by psychologists Professors Christine Valchowd and Anders Fiel.

Combining pre-existing MRI scans from people across Europe, the Lifebrain project analyzed the importance of a number of different factors on cognition as we age, and how this may differ in different individuals.

To analyze more than 40,000 brain scans of more than 5,000 people aged 18 to 80 in seven countries, the first task was to reconcile the data. Do MRI scans in Sweden and Spain give the same results? To make sure this was done, Lifebrain sent eight participants across Europe to scan and customize the equipment.

All psychological tests (including cognitive tests) and other collected data (body weight; demographic; genetic; lifestyle data including sleep and diet) were agreed.

The team then linked MRI data to additional databases that opened up new ideas about where you live and which is access to greenery can help reduce the risk of dementia. Conversely, it also helped figure out how education and to sleep may be less important for the future risk of dementia than previously thought.

“A lot of research claims that education is really important to reduce the risk of dementia. But if you follow people for the rest of your life, there is really no association, ”Drevon said. “That doesn’t mean education isn’t important; it means it’s probably not true that education will prevent dementia. We need to look for other important factors.”

Given the cost of MRI, Drevon suggests that tiny blood samples (dried blood stains) can be taken by finger prick without professional support to give an individual understanding in the future. Analyzed in an advanced laboratory as Ltd. Vitas-Life partner – this can change the game in providing individualized recommendations online on individual risks.

“If you really want to improve your lifestyle, you probably have to personalize it. You have to measure several factors on an individual level throughout your life,” he said. “Our best chances of battling cognitive decline and dementia will be early preventive measures using this approach to life expectancy data ”.

Work out the songs

Over time, Professor Drewon hopes these personalized ideas will help delay or potentially eradicate some aspects of dementia. At the same time, what about singing to prevent the cognitive decline proposed by Sarkyama through the PREMUS project? Does he agree that singing can be an important preventative step?

“Well, the brain is like a muscle. When you train it, you make it fit, and when you use your brain for singing, it’s difficult, there are a lot of processes, it’s about memorization. Of course, there are other ways to train the brain, but singing is a very good example of how you can help improve brain function».


Singing promotes memory and mood, especially in early dementia


Citation: Enhancing brain function later in life through singing (May 26, 2022), received May 26, 2022 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2022-05-boosting-brain-function-life.html

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