The current review examines the possibility that training-related changes that take place in the brains of musicians may have a beneficial effect on their cognitive outcome and recovery following neurological damage. First, we propose three different mechanisms by which training-related brain changes might result in relatively preserved function in musicians as compared to non-musicians with cerebral lesions. Next, we review the neuropsychological literature examining musical ability in professional musicians following brain damage, specifically of vascular, tumoral and epileptic aetiology. Finally, given that assessment of musician patients can greatly inform our understanding of the influence of premorbid experience on postmorbid recovery, we suggest some basic guidelines for the future evaluation of relevant patients.
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In line with the evidence of double dissociation of musical and language cognitive abilities, cases of loss of language ability without any loss in musical ability are also seen (8 patients).
Although these cases are in the left hemisphere, it is important to note that left hemisphere damage can cause deficits as evidenced by the fact that all but 4 of the 20 previously reported to have impairments showed their deficits after damage to the left cerebral hemisphere. Why so few cases of right hemisphere damage have been reported is not clear.
In those with temporal lobe epilepsy, cortical regions adjacent to the site of the foci are often depressed leading to a worsening of cognitive ability. As suggested by Zatorre (1989), the improved performance afterwards may be explained by the removal of the epileptogenic focus which results in less cortical interference over the brain.
As suggested by the authors, and as with Zatorre (1989) improvements reported by these patients are likely due to the disappearance of seizures and consequently the functional recovery of regions depressed by the epileptogenic focus.
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This study has received funding from the French Ministry (ANR-09-BLAN-0310-02), the Fondation Plan Alzheimer and the Institut Universitaire de France to S.S.
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Omigie, D., Samson, S. A Protective Effect of Musical Expertise on Cognitive Outcome Following Brain Damage?. Neuropsychol Rev 24, 445–460 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11065-014-9274-5
- Brain damage
- Cognitive outcome