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A Trip Down Memory Lane: How Music Invokes Involuntary Autobiographical Memories In Alzheimer’s Patients

November 24th, 2015 No comments


In today’s increasingly connected, online world, our personal information — and the identities that come with it — is essentially up for grabs to even the most amateur of criminals. With new data breaches causing panic on a routine basis, identity theft is becoming more and more of a commonplace crime that leaves victims scrambling to pick up the pieces. However, there is one form of identity theft from which recovery is impossible. Over 5.3 million Americans in the United States alone have fallen victim to Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) (Alzheimer’s Association, 2015)– a ruthless and cunning identity thief. Its assault is fairly subtle as it slowly strips its victims of their sense of self, whisking away cognitive abilities such as language, problem-solving skills, attention, and – perhaps most salient of all – the memories that are so crucial to the maintenance of one’s identity and way of life.

Although “memory loss” is listed as a common symptom of AD, this term is particularly uninformative due to the presence of multiple, separate memory systems that serve a variety of different functions – the loss of which are characteristic of AD. For instance, deficits to working memory – or the system responsible for holding onto new, fleeting information long enough for further processing and encoding imagesinto memory storage – have been identified in AD patients. However, most of us would probably associate the vague term “memory loss” with long-term memory (LTM) – the brain’s storage system for permanent, lifetime memories. The memories stored within LTM can be broken down into distinct types, all of which can be affected by AD: procedural, semantic, and episodic memories. Procedural memories essentially involve instructions for common, frequently performed tasks. For instance, after finally mastering the task of riding a bike, we no longer have to actively recall the steps involved. Instead, we automatically run through the motions without much conscious effort. Semantic memory, on the other hand, involves what is essentially our long-term storage of more general knowledge – for example, the “random” facts that you can recall in order to answer Jeopardy questions. Read more…

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