A music-based training programme 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
practised worldwide, particularly in the fields of music, theatre, 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.
Increased risk for falls
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.
The ageing brain
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 co-authors 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 ageing 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
"Jacques-Dalcroze eurhythmics puts it
all together in a programme that combines gait, balance, movement co-ordination
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.