Music and Memory in the Aging Brain (2015-2016)

How might a personalized music intervention affect people with dementia or cognitive impairment and their caregivers?

Music is capable of evoking powerful emotions. Music can also function as a trigger for emotional and personally significant memories, such as when one hears a song that is associated with a specific event or time-period in one’s life. In addition, music has also been shown to have a positive impact on various aspects of cognitive function, in both normal and clinical populations of older adults. Emerging research suggests that the benefits of music may be more significant, especially in the older population, when personalized music is used. Personalized music, an intervention whereby patients are enabled to listen to personally significant music, has been shown to enhance cognitive abilities as well as the quality of life in older adults through music-triggered memories. However, while some results of the intervention are certainly remarkable, the degree to which they generalize to other cognitive functions (such as attention) remains unclear.

This project team conducted a study to examine the effectiveness of daily music listening on the behavioral symptoms of patients with dementia, and to examine perceptions of caregiver burden before and after the personalized music intervention. Team members worked with five pairs of patients and caregivers who live together at home. Pre- and post-measures included the Caregiver Burden Inventory (CBI) and the Neuropsychiatric Inventory (NPI) to assess participant behavioral symptoms.

The team shared findings at the Society for Post-acute and Long-term Care Medicine conference in March 2016. CBI scores were reduced in three out of five caregivers. Some caregivers reported that their loved ones were less agitated immediately after listening to the music, and some said they found the music intervention enriching and that it improved quality of life by helping to increase interaction with their loved one.


Summer 2015 – Spring 2016

Team Outputs

2016 AMDA (American Medical Directors Association) Foundation Quality Improvement & Health Outcome Award for program at Eno Pointe Assisted Living Community, Connecting Residents with Dementia to Their Autobiographic Soundtrack with Personalized Music

Personalized Music in Adults with Dementia: Effects on Caregivers (poster by Megan Snyder, Amanda Lee, Cole Jenson, Gabriela Gomez, Heidi White, Tobias Overath and Cassandra M. Germain presented at the Society for Post-acute and Long-term Care Medicine conference, Orlando, FL, March 2016)

Project team demo at DIBS Discovery Day, Brain Awareness Week at Duke (April 3, 2016)

Bass Connections: Music, Memory and the Aging Brain (presentation by Cole Jenson and Amanda Lee at The Edge Lightning Talks) (December 4, 2015)

Panelists at Alive Inside Screening Event, Cary Academy (Megan Snyder and Cassandra M. Germain) (September 10, 2015)


Bass Connections in Brain & Society: Brain Week 2016


Megan Snyder

Faculty Perspectives: Heidi White

This Team in the News

Meet This Year’s Graduate Young Trustee Finalists

From Lab to Museum, Students Share Their Brain Research

Personalized Music Therapy Benefits People with Dementia—and Their Caregivers

Congratulations to the Student Leadership and Service Award Winners

Research Collaboration Wins Quality Improvement and Health Outcome Award

Project Connects Patients with Dementia to Music That Sparks Memories

$25 Million Gift, $50 Million Center to Elevate Arts

Team Leaders

  • Cassandra Germain, School of Medicine-Psychiatry: Behavioral Medicine
  • J. Tobias Overath, Duke Institute for Brain Sciences

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Cole Jenson, Neuroscience (AB)
  • Amanda Lee, Evolutionary Anthropology (BS)
  • Ivana Premasinghe, Biology (BS)
  • Megan Snyder, Evolutionary Anthropology (BS)

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • Gabriela Gomez, Duke Institute for Brain Sciences
  • Heidi White, School of Medicine-Medicine: Geriatrics