Language, Music and Dementia (2020-2021)


The question of how language and music are represented in the human brain is one of the more challenging problems of contemporary cognitive neuroscience and neurolinguistics. During the past two decades, advances in neuroimaging technology have produced a greater understanding of higher cognition, including language and music. As our population ages, the risk of dementia increases, making it one of the biggest health concerns facing society today. Bringing together behavioral and imaging research on language and music in healthy subjects and patients marks a unique approach to the study of this issue.

Project Description

This project’s goals are to determine the interactions and interrelations of neurological regions that are critical for linguistic and musical processing; examine the similarities and differences in the audition and reading of musical and linguistic texts; and explore the potential impact of musicianship and bilingualism or multilingualism on behavior in people with cognitive impairment, in terms of delaying the behavioral symptoms of dementia.

Using a combination of neuroimaging and behavioral data, team members will establish the language and music mappings in professional musicians who are either monolingual or highly proficient in one or more languages and examine the effect of musical training and language ability on dementia and cognitive impairment. The team’s experimental design will include data collection from human subjects through the use of fMRI and behavioral data, including interviews, recordings and language proficiency testing.

The data collected from professional musicians and people with dementia or cognitive impairment will be analyzed to develop a better understanding of the neurological interface and mappings of first and proceeding languages, the interrelationship of music and language mappings in the healthy brain, improvements in patient care and wellness in aging populations by using personalized music and the creation of a database of narratives by musicians that include healthy subjects and patients. Findings from this research will potentially also be analyzed from the perspective of educational programs emphasizing music training and language learning.

Anticipated Outputs

Database of narratives by musicians; baseline knowledge established to aid practical applications of findings to dementia treatment; imaging protocol refined


Summer 2020 – Sprint 2021

  • Summer 2020 (optional): Continue data collection from human subjects, including fMRI and behavioral data, interviews, recordings and language proficiency testing
  • Fall 2020: Continue data collection from healthy subjects and subjects with dementia; analyze data; write manuscript
  • Spring 2021: Enroll in NEURO 595; analyze imaging data using FSL; submit manuscript to a major neuroscience journal

See earlier related team, Language, Music and Dementia (2019-2020).


Image: Music-brain, by Wuhuiru55, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Drawing of person.

Team Leaders

  • Edna Andrews, Arts & Sciences-Slavic and Eurasian Studies;Program in Linguistics
  • Cyrus Eierud, Arts & Sciences-Program in Linguistics
  • Neema Sharda, School of Medicine-Medicine:Geriatrics

/undergraduate Team Members

  • /undergraduate
  • Arushi Bhatia
  • Hannah Folks, Linguistics (AB), Biology (AB2)
  • Caroline Gamard
  • Hope Morales, Neuroscience (AB)
  • Devika Naphade, Neuroscience (BS), Linguistics (AB2)
  • Hanna Stern
  • Lena Yannella

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • Todd Harshbarger, School of Medicine-Brain Imaging and Analysis Center
  • Elizabeth Linnartz, Arts & Sciences-Music
  • Yana Lowry, Duke Focus Program
  • Richard Mooney, School of Medicine-Neurobiology