Dementia can lead to musical prowess

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Great musical ability can be acquired by people who develop dementia, says a study showing loss of function in one area of the brain can lead to the release of new skills elsewhere.

Great musical ability can be acquired by people who develop dementia, says a study showing loss of function in one area of the brain can lead to the release of new skills elsewhere.

The research, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, could change the way people suffering dementia are treated. Non-musical people can become accomplished composers and artists can paint long after they are unable to talk.

Doctors long thought people who develop the disease as they get older only progressively lose brain capacity, but this study shows they may gain new functions to compensate.

The findings have historical resonance. The German composer Robert Schumann began to lose his mind near the end of his life and suffered severe tinnitis. But he declared that "the angels in heaven dictated the melody" to him.

In the study, Professor Bruce Millar and colleagues at the University of California at San Francisco School of Medicine examined 12 patients. Seven developed new skills. The other five maintained visual and, or, musical abilities, despite the progression of dementia.

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