Language, Music and Dementia (2022-2023)


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 multiyear project team aims to establish the language and music mappings in professional musicians who are either monolingual or multilingual and examine the effect of musical training and multilingualism on dementia and cognitive impairment. 

Previous team accomplishments include two full-length, peer-reviewed publications by students on COVID-19 in communities of multilinguals and musicians. The 2021-2022 team conducted a new neuroimaging study with a focus on Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI) and resting state fMRI in highest proficiency musicians and multilinguals. 

In 2022-2023, team members will continue to work 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 multilingualism on behavior in those with cognitive impairment and delaying the behavioral symptoms of dementia. The experimental design will include data collection from human subjects using fMRI and behavioral data through interviews, recordings and language proficiency testing. 

Students will complete CITI IRB modules prior to being added to the IRB protocol, participate in weekly journal club and in person meetings during the academic year on the research area and participate as an active researcher with appropriate guidance from the project leaders in two or more of the three IRBs.

Anticipated Outputs

Articles for publication; research papers; database of first-person narratives by musicians; protocols for improvements in patient care and wellness in aging populations through storytelling/creative expression 

Student Opportunities

Ideally, this project team will be comprised of 2 graduate students and 10 undergraduate students. Undergraduates will likely be interested in neuroscience, linguistics and music. Graduate students will be from the School of Medicine as well as residents and fellows from Geriatrics and Neurology. Students with experience in the FOCUS program are encouraged to apply. Students with skills in foreign languages are encouraged to apply, but foreign language proficiency is not required.  

Prospective applicants should be interested in data collection and analysis as well as participating 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.

Students will be involved directly with data collection with subjects in all three of the team’s IRB protocols (including fMRI and behavioral data collection). Team members will interact across language and music specializations and will learn important primary research in each pathway. The team will submit work processes and outcomes to conferences with the aim to disseminate what was learned and allow students to gain presentation experience.

Selected students will participate in an optional summer research component that will last approximately one month for up to 15 hours/week. 


Summer 2022 – Summer 2023

  • Summer 2022 (optional): Complete CITI IRB training (all team members); refine study protocols and research milestones (summer team members)
  • Fall 2022: Begin behavioral data collection; research utility through local music programs related to senior citizens
  • Spring 2023: Complete data collection and analysis; write research paper for experiment; prepare for submission to clinical journal
  • Summer 2023 (optional): TBD, depending on research progress


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

See related team, Language, Music and Dementia (2021-2022).


Image: Musical brain, Bloomington, by Ali Eminov, licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Sculpture of 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
  • Yana Lowry, Duke Focus Program
  • Andrew Michael, Duke Institute for Brain Sciences