Using the power of music to change lives

Caroline+Badagliacca+%2720+at+the+Connecticut+Science%2C+Technology%2C+Engineering%2C+and+Math+%28STEM%29+Fair+in+2019.+Courtesy+of+Ms.+Mary+Musolino

Caroline Badagliacca '20 at the Connecticut Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) Fair in 2019. Courtesy of Ms. Mary Musolino

The Regeneron Science Talent Search named Sacred Heart Greenwich senior Caroline Badagliacca a top 300 finalist January 8 for her research project which concentrated on the correlation between music therapy and dementia.  Caroline began working on this project for her eighth-grade capstone project, combining her passion for music with her desire to aid people living with dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease. 

The Regeneron Science Talent Search, founded in 1942 as the Westinghouse Science Talent Search, recognizes accomplished young scientists who demonstrate scientific leadership potential, according to societyforscience.org

Alzheimer’s Disease, named after Dr. Alois Alzheimer, is an irreversible, progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys memory thinking skills, and eventually, the ability to carry out simple tasks, according to nia.nih.org Dementia is a general term for diseases and conditions characterized by a decline in memory, language, problem-solving, and other thinking skills that affect a person’s ability to perform everyday activities, according to alz.org.

Caroline’s project taught her not only scientific discoveries, but real-world skills as well.  She volunteered at My Second Home, an adult day center for adults with Alzheimer’s and dementia in Mount Kisco, New York.  Caroline was able to carry out her own version of music enrichment by performing piano concerts, playing music themed games, and working on the adults’ individual iPod systems.

When caregivers play their loved one’s favorite piece of music, it triggers a response in the brain called the Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response.  When scientists used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to specifically analyze where the response occurs, they found advances to Alzheimer’s patients and caregivers.  Those areas of the brain are not affected by the disease.  Through this discovery, scientists found that music accesses parts of the brain that are still functioning in these patients, activating emotions and even old memories, and the resulting sensation is pleasurable, according to dementiacarecentral.com.

The 2020 top 40 Regeneron Science Talent Search finalists. Courtesy of societyforscience.org

The Regeneron Science Talent Institute chose from 1,993 applications from 659 high schools across the United States.  The program awarded the 300 selected scholars and their schools $2000 of prize money.  The selection of the 300 winners took place January 8.  The top 40 finalists will attend the Regeneron Science Talent Institute from March 5 to March 10, in Washington, D.C.  The Regeneron Science Talent Search winner will receive a grand prize award of $250,000.

Caroline tailored her research work to correspond with the work of her mentors.  They taught her not only about the process of research, but also about the qualities one needs in order to succeed.

“While researching Alzheimer’s and Dementia, I grew tremendously by not only learning about persistence and hard work but by discovering how to work on a research team,” Caroline said.  “My mentors and I had weekly calls to discuss my progress, but otherwise they trusted me with making decisions regarding the study’s data and I learned to troubleshoot on my own.”

Caroline has worked alongside researchers at Brown University for three years developing her project.  Two researchers, Ms. Rosa Baier and Ms. Ellen McCreedy assisted with her exploration as mentors.  

“While working with them, I focused specifically on music’s effect on the quality of life by analyzing data from the iPods of participants that showed what songs they listened to and how much time they spent listening,” Caroline said.  “By doing this, I was able to see that, as participants listened for longer, or received a higher ‘dosage’ of music, they demonstrated fewer agitative behaviors.”

Caroline has taken Science Research as an elective at Sacred Heart since freshman year.  Ms. Mary Musolino, Upper School Science Teacher, has been her teacher and adviser throughout the span of her high school career.  Caroline noted the positive effect that the elective has on her. 

“Taking Science Research greatly impacted my project by giving me the resources and guidance to make my original research idea a reality,” Caroline said.  “Having Science Research gave me the class structure necessary to guide me through the process of crafting a research proposal, finding a mentor, and being able to work with them effectively.”

Caroline Badagliacca ’20 is a top 300 scholar in the Regeneron Science Talent Search for her research on the connection between music therapy and those affected by Alzheimer’s disease.  Christine Guido ’20

Ms. Musolino believes that Caroline’s passion for research can be an inspiration for other students.

“Caroline has been one of my most motivated and hard-working research students,” Ms. Musolino said.  “I think Caroline has taught students that anything is possible if one possesses the passion, the drive, and the desire to help people through research.  She has demonstrated that what starts as one idea or goal can blossom into a completed project that can make a difference in the lives of others.”

 Featured Image Courtesy of Ms. Mary Musolino