In the brilliant film “Alive Inside”, patients with Alzheimer’s disease are shown to react in a beautiful way when they hear familiar music. This consistent reaction is no coincidence. The area of the brain affected by Alzheimer’s disease is called the hippocampus and is responsible for short-term memory. This area takes in new information and transfers it to the storage area of the brain. A brain surgeon can cut out the hippocampus and without it no new memories are formed. Interestingly, a brain surgeon cannot cut out the “long-term memory area” of the brain as it is encompassed in every region in a holographic way (a fact that continues to baffle scientists).
When patients with Alzheimer’s disease listen to familiar music, they are hearing melodies that were imprinted decades ago into those long-term areas of storage. Through another area of the brain called the limbic system that music is associated immediately with good or bad feelings, and often pulls up a fond memory from the past. The object of music therapy in these patients is to bring out the best feelings by choosing the proper music for them. It’s an awakening. Patients become alive again and this phenomenon is similar in all nationalities and cultures.
Our research hopes to determine the best way to deliver music on a minute-by-minute basis to these patients in an effort to conjure up their happiness. As this awakening occurs, we anticipate an increased plasticity of their neuronal connections. Through the phenomenon of epigenetics, these patients can change their genome through music by altering the DNA in their neurons transiently, and possibly permanently.
Dr. Duma is the first in the United States to implant fat-derived stem cells directly into the human brain for Alzheimer's Disease. He is currently in the running with the National Alzheimer's Association for a $700,000 grant toward his research.