Music-based program may boost seniors’ brain function, mood

By C. E. Huggins

NEW YORK Fri Nov 29, 2013 4:53pm EST

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – A music-based training program that challenges both the body and the mind may improve brain function and mood among seniors, suggests a new study from Switzerland.

“The take-home message is that 6-months of music-based multitask training (i.e., Jaques-Dalcroze eurhythmics) – a specific training regimen which was previously shown to be effective in improving gait and reducing falls – has beneficial effects on cognition and mood in older adults,” Dr. Mélany Hars, of Geneva University Hospitals, told Reuters Health in an email.

Jacques-Dalcroze eurhythmics was developed in the early part of the 20th century by the Swiss composer Emile Jaques-Dalcroze as a way to better understand music through movement. It is practiced worldwide, particularly in the fields of music, theater, dance and therapy, according to Hars.

A typical Jacques-Dalcroze session involves participants adapting their movements to the rhythmic changes of improvised piano music. In Hars’ study, the participants were challenged to perform specific multitasking skills, such as walking to the rhythm of a piano while handling a percussion instrument and responding to changes in the piano’s rhythm.

The study participants were also asked to perform quick reaction exercises, such as starting or stopping to walk or changing their walking speed on command, as well as matching their steps to the long or short music notes that were played.

The study included 134 men and women aged 75 years, on average, who were all at increased risk for falls but who did not live in a nursing home or other facility. These seniors were randomly divided into a study group that attended hour-long music-based multitasking sessions once a week for 25 weeks or a comparison group that just kept up their normal lifestyles and did not attend training sessions.

At the beginning of the study, both groups underwent a battery of tests for mental function and mood.

After six months, the 66 adults who participated in the music training sessions showed improved cognitive function, particularly on a test of their degree of sensitivity to interference, and decreased anxiety, compared to the group that had not done the training.

“This may have implications for everyday life function,” since many situations require individuals to pay selective attention to one thing while blocking out something else, such as distracting surroundings, Hars and her coauthors write in the journal Age and Ageing.

How the training might be responsible for the improvements is unknown, Hars acknowledges.

However, she noted, “some studies suggest that music can mitigate effects of the aging brain… (and) some studies have revealed that specific physical exercise regimens may enhance (not only) cognitive performance but also brain function or brain structure of older adults.”

Jacques-Dalcroze eurhythmics puts it all together in a program that combines gait, balance, movement coordination and flexibility training while also engaging attention and memory skills, Hars said.

This “is likely to engage multiple brain regions through a combination of music, rhythm, and exercise,” Hars said.

Whether the training is also linked with fewer falls or improved walking ability in these seniors remains to be studied, the researchers point out in their report.

Source: Age and Ageing, online November 7, 2013.

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