Language, Music and Dementia (2021-2022)


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. This project is unique in bringing together behavioral and neuroimaging research on language and music in healthy subjects and patients. 

Project Description

Using a combination of neuroimaging and behavioral data, this project aims to establish the language and music mappings in professional musicians who are either monolingual or multilingual, and to examine the effect of musical training and multilingualism on dementia and cognitive impairment. 

Building on the work of previous teams, this project team will explore the short- and long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on persons who are involved in music and multilingualism in different communities and levels of interaction. The team will administer different versions of a short survey with those communities in mind.

Team members will 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 multilingualism on behavior in those with cognitive impairment and delaying the behavioral symptoms of dementia.

Team members will also study music and languages through neuroimaging with fMRI.

Anticipated Outputs

Published article(s); research paper

Student Opportunities

Ideally, this project team will include 5 graduate students and 10 undergraduate students. 

Interested undergraduate and graduate students should be from Arts & Sciences, particularly neuroscience, linguistics and music, and the School of Medicine. Students with experience in the FOCUS program are encouraged to apply. Proficiency in multiple languages may be helpful for working with subjects who are bi- or multilingual, but this is not required.

Students will be involved directly with data collection with subjects in all three of the IRB protocols (including fMRI and behavioral data collection). Students will be expected to participate in not only the collection, but in the data analysis, as well as participate in efforts leading to publication and grant applications. 

Team members will learn how to synthesize information, collaborate in a team environment, think critically, evaluate data, work with subjects and write for a scientific audience.

Team members will meet at least once per week. Additional meetings of the group include participation in guest speaker events and fMRI analysis training in brain imaging and analysis at BIAC. The team leaders will work collaboratively across IRBs and share leadership responsibilities. 


Fall 2021 – Spring 2022

  • Fall 2021: Continued field and lab work; early data analysis
  • Spring 2022: Data collection; data analysis; writing research paper

This Team in the News

Making the Most of Duke, Summer 2021


Academic credit available for fall and spring semesters; summer funding available

See earlier related team, Language, Music and Dementia (2020-2021).


Image: Diffusion tensor imaging of the brain, courtesy of the 2019-2020 project team

Diffusion tensor imaging of the brain.

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

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • Todd Harshbarger, School of Medicine-Brain Imaging and Analysis Center
  • Catherine Lewis, Arts & Sciences-Slavic and Eurasian Studies
  • Yana Lowry, Duke Focus Program
  • Andrew Michael, Duke Institute for Brain Sciences