Recognition of familiar and unfamiliar music in normal aging and Alzheimer's disease

J.C. Bartlett
Andrea Halpern, Bucknell University
W.J. Dowling


We tested normal young and elderly adults and elderly Alzheimer’s disease (AD) patients on recognition memory for tunes. In Experiment 1, AD patients and age-matched controls received a study list and an old/new recognition test of highly familiar, traditional tunes, followed by a study list and test of novel tunes. The controls performed better than did the AD patients. The controls showed the “mirror effect” of increased hits and reduced false alarms for traditional versus novel tunes, whereas the patients false-alarmed as often to traditional tunes as to novel tunes. Experiment 2 compared young adults and healthy elderly persons using a similar design. Performance was lower in the elderly group, but both younger and older subjects showed the mirror effect. Experiment 3 produced confusion between preexperimental familiarity and intraexperimental familiarity by mixing traditional and novel tunes in the study lists and tests. Here, the subjects in both age groups resembled the patients of Experiment 1 in failing to show the mirror effect. Older subjects again performed more poorly, and they differed qualitatively from younger subjects in setting stricter criteria for more nameable tunes. Distinguishing different sources of global familiarity is a factor in tune recognition, and the data suggest that this type of source monitoring is impaired in AD and involves different strategies in younger and older adults.