A music-based exercise program enhances cognitive function and decreases anxiety in older adults, new research shows.
"The take-home message is that 6 months of music-based multitask training that uses a specific training regimen has beneficial effects on cognition and mood in older adults," said lead study author Mélany Hars, PhD, Division of Bone Diseases, Department of Internal Medicine Specialities, Geneva University Hospitals and Faculty of Medicine, Geneva, Switzerland.
The study was a secondary analysis of a randomized controlled trial of a program that uses a combination of music, rhythm, and exercise that was previously shown to improve gait and reduce falls. The eurhythmics program is based on that developed by the Swiss composer Émile Jacques-Dalcroze.
The findings were published online November 7 in Age and Aging.
The study included 134 community-dwelling adults aged 65 years and older who were at risk for falling. Participants were randomly assigned to an intervention group that attended structured music-based multitask exercise classes (n = 66) or to a control group that maintained their usual physical and social habits (n = 68).
The once-weekly hour-long exercise sessions consisted of varied, progressively more difficult exercises, sometimes involving use of instruments.
Participants were asked to walk to piano music, responding to changes in rhythmic patterns. They also performed quick reaction exercises, such as changing their walking speed or matching their steps to the notes.
All participants underwent a short neuropsychological test battery at baseline and after 6 months. The battery included the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE); the clock drawing test; and the frontal assessment battery (FAB), which included 6 subtests, each assessing executive function. Mood was assessed using the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS-A).
Twenty-two of the original participants dropped out of the study. The 6-month intention-to-treat analysis showed improvement in the sensitivity to interference subtest of the FAB (adjusted between-group mean difference [AMD], 0.12; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.00 - 0.25; P = .047) and reduced anxiety (HADS-A AMD, –0.88; 95% CI, –1.73 to –0.05; P = .039) in the intervention compared with the control group.
The improvement in sensitivity to interference appeared to be independent of improvement in mood, commented the authors.
Within the intervention group, participants had increased MMSE scores: from 25.9 at baseline to 26.9 at 6 months (P = .004). Fewer intervention participants had impaired global cognitive performance (eg, an MMSE score of 23 or less).
Such music-based multitask training could improve everyday functioning because many common situations require carrying out tasks while blocking out irrelevant noises and other interruptions, Dr. Hars told Medscape Medical News.
"It challenges the ability to resist interference, especially when performing concurrent attention-demanding tasks, such as walking and manipulating objects, while also attending multiple simultaneous stimuli," Dr. Hars added.
Further research is necessary to determine to what extent music-based multitask training influences cognitive function and whether cognitive changes correlate with improvements in dual-task gait performance and with falls, the authors note.
The study was not formally designed or powered to detect between-group differences in neuropsychological outcomes. Another limitation of the study was that the number and duration of the training sessions may not have been sufficient to detect improvements in cognitive function.