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From The Age: 

MUSIC can help patients with severe traumatic brain injury unlock memories from their past, a new study has shown.

Aimee Baird's patient's memory got better with the song she played.
 Photo: Angela Wylie
In a case presented at the World Congress for Neurorehabilitation in Melbourne this week, clinical neuropsychologist Aimee Baird played 50 songs to a patient who suffered a brain injury in a motorbike accident in 2010.

"I played him the No.1 song-of-the-year from when he was 10 to 60, to see if the songs could help bring to mind personal memories associated with the music," Dr Baird said.
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"I played the same songs in a separate session with his wife, they had been married 40 years, so she was a good healthy control.

"Although he's got this brain injury and severe memory problems, there was no difference in the number of songs that brought to mind memories for them."

Dr Baird, of Newcastle's Hunter Brain Injury Service, said the patient's memories were not as vivid of those of his wife, but he could sometimes recall additional details once a song had triggered a particular event.

"When I played him I Want To Hold Your Hand by the Beatles, he said the Beatles were great and he could picture watching Paul McCartney on film," she said.

"His wife said: 'It reminds me of two trips with my husband in the 1970s, we listened to music on the beach, lit a fire and talked with friends'."

Another song that triggered a memory was for the 1981 No.1 Bette Davis Eyes, with the patient recalling: "I bought this song from a record shop for my wife and we would turn it up if it was on the radio."

Dr Baird — who is now conducting the same study with a larger group of brain-injured patients — said her research had shown the potential for music to help restore personal memories in that group.

"It's something that we know very well in everyday life — we all put on songs that bring back memories from the past — but it's something that hasn't been researched that well to date," she said.

"There have been a couple of studies in healthy people but mine is the first study in a person with a brain injury."

In addition to her work with brain-injured patients, Dr Baird has also received funding from Alzheimer's Australia to see if music can improve the memories of dementia patients.

"We're putting information into a song, and seeing if people can remember it better as a lyric than if it's said to them," she said.

"Things like 'at 9 o'clock in the morning, take your aspirin', to the tune of Waltzing Matilda. We're just starting that, and we'll be comparing musicians and non-musicians to see if a musical background helps."

Link to The Age here.

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