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Millions of funding for musical Alzheimer’s research

The neuroscientist and music therapist Stefan Kölsch at the University of Bergen has received funding for his project to help Alzheimer’s patients through music.

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Professor Stefan Kölsch, Department of Biological and Medical Psychology, University of Bergen (UIB)
FUNDING SUCCESS: Professor Stefan Kölsch of the Department of Biological and Medical Psychology has received funding for a groundbreaking new project to combine neuroscience and music therapy to improve the life of patients with Alzheimer's disease.
Photo:
Eivind Senneset for the University of Bergen

Professor Stefan Kölsch has received support from the Research Council of Norway for the project “Effects of music instrument lessons on brain plasticity, mood, and quality of life in Alzheimer patients”. In total the project is estimated to cost 18 million Norwegian kroner (NOK), or approximately 2 million Euros.

Congratulations with the funding!

“Thank you! This is very much appreciated,” says Professor Kölsch about the great news of receiving his pioneering approach to treating Alzheimer’s patients through music.

Stefan Kölsch is a member of the world-leading Bergen fMRI Group at the University of Bergen (UiB) and Haukeland University Hospital. The group is headed by Professor Kenneth Hugdahl, a two-time recipient of the European Research Council’s (ERC) Advanced Grant. Kölsch was appointed a professor at UiB thanks to funding from the Bergen Research Foundation (BFS).

Music therapy and dementia

The research project is a major boost for basic research in biological psychology and applied research in music therapy at UiB. As part of the project, Kölsch will work with the music therapy environment at the university’s Grieg Academy, underlining the strong interdisciplinary research environments in Bergen.

Can you briefly explain what this project is about?

“We now know that in Alzheimer’s patients, which is a neural degenerative disease, part of the brain gets atrophy. These patients suffer from severe memory loss. Their life fades away because their memories fade away,” says Kölsch.

However, through his work as a musician, Kölsch has discovered the healing effect of music.

“We have found that many patients have a well-preserved memory for music, and in this project we want to see whether we can use music to help these patients. Both psychologically with regard to their quality of life and the hope they might get from this musical memory island, on which they can make even more memories.”

Free music lessons

Thanks to this funding Kölsch and his research partners will perform brain research and neural investigations on the patients to establish whether it is possible to slow down the brain atrophy caused by Alzheimer’s disease.

“To start, we wish to invite patients who learned a musical instrument when they were young. Many don’t have time to play during their occupational career but we believe it is possible to reignite the musical memory and help them to relearn skills they once had and maybe even learn new skills,” he says.

The patients will get free music lessons as part of the study and will be guided by trained music therapists.

“From our observations so far, we have seen that improving musical memory has tremendous beneficial effect on the mood of the patient. It is like being on a musical memory island, where they can still remember and learn, and connect with other people,” he says hopefully.

Reducing social costs for society and relatives

He also sees benefits for the health care sector as a whole.

“Sooner or later most of these patients have to go to a nursing home, but maybe we can slow that down by investigating whether music therapy slows down brain atrophy,“ says Kölsch before gleefully adding:

“I also believe that we could help save the social-economic system of Norway lots of money by reducing treatment costs for depression and keep the patients at a higher level of life quality, and keep them longer at home instead of nursing homes.”

But society and the public budgets are not the only ones to benefit.

“The quality of family members and care-givers, who live together with these patients, and who are interested in these patients feeling less depressed and happier, will also increase.”

Working to help patients with dementia through music therapy is something Kölsch has been wanting to do for a long time, and he cherishes getting started with this new, exciting project.