When an infection attacked the brain of a 68-year-old concert cellist and wiped out his entire memory back in 2005, doctors were shocked to discover his musical memory remained intact.
First reported by The Guardian, the German musician known as PM could only recognize his brother and care worker, but had no recollection of people or events from his past.
Discover Magazine explains the cellist’s severe amnesia meant he couldn’t recall old and new memories thanks to the destruction of his medial temple nodes — a part of the brain responsible for storing facts and events.
But when it came to playing previous concertos, and learning new pieces of music, he had such no problem leaving doctors stunned.
Discussed at the Society for Neuroscience conference for the first time this past weekend, scientists say this case study suggests memory is more complex and autonomous than previously thought and that music could be the key to helping people with memory problems learn new skills in life.
“Musical memory seems to be stored independently, at least partially, of other types of memory,” Carsten Finke, a neurologist at Charite university hospital in Berlin told the Guardian. “If you contrast these two cases, you could argue the superior temporal gyrus, which is intact on the righthand side in our patient, could be the relevant structure that he uses to remember music.”
The link between memory and music is nothing new, of course. The LA Times points out that tunes are the last memory to go with Alzheimer’s patients. According to the American Health Assistance Foundation, people can prevent Alzheimer’s and dementia by playing a musical instrument in order to keep the brain active.
Another study out of Boston University showed music had healing affects on Alzheimer’s patients and allowed them to learn new things through lyrics rather than spoken word.