Musical Mnemonics in Cognitively Unimpaired Individuals and Individuals with Alzheimer's Dementia: A Systematic Review

Neuropsychol Rev. 2024 Jun;34(2):455-477. doi: 10.1007/s11065-023-09585-4. Epub 2023 Apr 14.


Based on the idea that music acts as a mnemonic aid, musical mnemonics (i.e., sung presentation of information, also referred to as 'music as a structural prompt'), are being used in educational and therapeutic settings. However, evidence in general and patient populations is still scarce. We investigated whether musical mnemonics affect working and episodic memory performance in cognitively unimpaired individuals and persons with Alzheimer's dementia (AD). Furthermore, we examined the possible contribution of musical expertise. We comprehensively searched the PubMed and PsycINFO databases for studies published between 1970 and 2022. Also, reference lists of all identified papers were manually extracted to identify additional articles. Of 1,126 records identified, 37 were eligible and included. Beneficial effects of musical mnemonics on some aspect of memory performance were reported in 28 of 37 studies, including nine on AD. Nine studies found no beneficial effect. Familiarity contributed positively to this beneficial effect in cognitively unimpaired adults, but require more extensive investigation in AD. Musical expertise generally did not lead to additional benefits for cognitively unimpaired participants, but may benefit people with AD. Musical mnemonics may help to learn and remember verbal information in cognitively unimpaired individuals and individuals with memory impairment. Here, we provide a theoretical model of the possible underlying mechanisms of musical mnemonics, building on previous frameworks. We also discuss the implications for designing music-based mnemonics.

Keywords: Aging; Alzheimer’s dementia; Episodic memory; Musical expertise; Musical mnemonics; Working memory.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alzheimer Disease* / psychology
  • Humans
  • Memory, Episodic
  • Memory, Short-Term
  • Music* / psychology
  • Recognition, Psychology