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Can music slow mental decline? Rice researchers aim to find out

Can music slow mental decline? Rice researchers aim to find out

Can music therapy slow the progression of degenerative brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia while promoting well-being? A grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) will fund a new lab at Rice University that will explore this possible new inroad in the fight against such disorders.

Principal investigator Christopher Fagundes, an assistant professor of psychology, and co-principal investigator Anthony Brandt, a professor of composition and theory, are recipients of a $150,000 grant to fund a NEA Research Lab, one of only four awarded this year. The grants are focused on generating new knowledge about the value and impact of the arts through transdisciplinary research.

The lab will assess the therapeutic effect of music on cognition and social and emotional well-being, with a specific focus on quantifying associated changes in the brain. A six-week course for older adults with mild cognitive impairment will combine musical exposure, creativity and performance. The investigators will look for changes in intelligence, neural flexibility, loneliness, social support and perceived psychological stress.

“We know that music, and other forms of art, have a powerful impact on people all around the world,” Fagundes said. “It is ubiquitous in every culture throughout history. Given the universal role music plays in the human experience, we surmised that it must promote positive changes in neurological, physiological and psychological health. We designed our research lab around this premise by intervening in a population of those with mild cognitive impairment, a growing population.”

“We’re going to image the subjects’ brains before and after the course to look for an increase in cross-talk between brain regions, and correlate that with their mental health and emotional well-being,” Brandt said. “Our hope is to show that creativity promotes brain plasticity and mental resilience as we age.”

The researchers will collaborate with Musiqa, an organization directed by Brandt that presents public and educational concerts throughout Houston and has won national awards for adventurous programming. It will oversee the curriculum of the six-week course, which will be taught by composer Karl Blench, a Shepherd School graduate.

To communicate their work to the public, the researchers will share their findings with the Houston Methodist Hospital’s Center for Performing Arts Medicine, Rice’s Office of STEM Engagement, the YMCA’s Active Older Adults program and the Houston Symphony. The researchers will also work closely with Rice’s Baker Institute for Public Policy to promote policies that support arts programs as therapies.

source: Rice University

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