Academic journal article Psychomusicology

New Technology for Studying the Impact of Regular Singing and Song Learning on Cognitive Function in Older Adults: A Feasibility Study

Academic journal article Psychomusicology

New Technology for Studying the Impact of Regular Singing and Song Learning on Cognitive Function in Older Adults: A Feasibility Study

Article excerpt

In many countries the proportion of older adults is increasing. In the United States the proportion of adults over the age of 65 is projected to double in the next 50 years, with older Americans numbering over 83 million by the year 2050 (Ortman, Velkoff, & Hogan, 2014). Given the societal and familial costs incurred by age-related cognitive decline, there is increasing interest in identifying regular mental exercises that preserve or enhance cognitive function in older adults (Mahncke et al., 2006).

Most researchers agree that cognitive change is a nearly inevitable part of advancing age: the majority of individuals experience declines after an initial peak in their mid-20s. Age-related changes in the brain are associated with changes in cognitive processes such as control and maintenance of attention, maintenance and manipulation of information in working memory, and encoding and retrieval of information from long-term memory (for review see Craik & Bialystok, 2006). Because these changes can have a significant impact on the activities of daily living, the development of interventions to support cognitive functioning has recently broadened in scope (Mahncke et al., 2006). Researchers have begun to identify lifestyle practices such as education, leisure pursuits, intellectual engagement, and expertise that are associated with successful maintenance of cognitive abilities, and have begun to capitalize on those practices to abate age-related decline in cognition. For example, it has been established that education exerts protective effects on both memory and crystallized cognition (accumulated knowledge), with minor effects on fluid cognition (processing speed and abilities). Similarly, persons with cog- nitively stimulating occupations-college professors, pilots, physicians, musicians, and architects-maintain higher cognitive functioning with aging (Singh-Manoux et al., 2011).

There is also growing interest in knowing whether regular music-making could promote the maintenance of cognitive function in older adults. Playing an instrument or singing engages a broad range of complex cognitive and neural mechanisms, some specific to music (e.g., the production and perception of pitches with reference to an underlying scale) and some more domaingeneral (e.g., selective attention, working memory; Kraus & Slater, 2016; Peretz & Coltheart, 2003). Singing (the focus of the current article) combines vocal-motor, auditory, linguistic, cognitive, emotional, and social brain processing (Särkämö, Tervaniemi, & Huotilainen, 2013; Zarate, 2013), and engages widespread brain networks. Indeed, compared with speech it activates a broader and more bilateral set of brain regions (Callan et al., 2006; Özdemir, Norton, & Schlaug, 2006). Thus, music-making is a promising way of providing cognitive stimulation for older adults, particularly because many older adults already identify music as having a high degree of significance in their lives (Cohen, Bailey, & Nilsson, 2002) and, thus, may be predisposed to agree to a musicbased program of "cognitive exercise."

A growing body of research with young adults and children points to positive associations between musical training and nonmusical aspects of cognitive function, including executive function, language processing, and visuospatial abilities (for a review see Schellenberg & Weiss, 2013). While most of this work is correlational (and unable to prove that music training causes these cognitive benefits), there are a small number of longitudinal studies that suggest that music training can play a causal role in enhancing nonmusical cognition, though more work is needed to better understand the mechanisms involved (Swaminathan & Schellenberg, 2016).

The purpose of this article is to introduce a new method for conducting longitudinal studies on the impact of regular musicmaking on cognitive function in healthy older adults, motivated by the demographic and societal issues implicated in the growing size of the aging population. …

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