Music tests could help predict cognitive decline in older people

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Music tests combined with EEG recordings could predict cognitive decline in older people, offering implications for earlier detection. Cavan Images/Getty Images
  • Age-related cognitive decline may be a risk factor for dementia, but it is currently underdiagnosed.
  • A new pilot study shows that simple musical tests combined with EEG recordings could help predict cognitive decline in older people.
  • In the future, musical tests could be used to more accurately detect cognitive decline and enable earlier intervention.

Cognitive decline describes changes in cognitive abilities such as memory, awareness, and judgment that can occur with aging. In the United States, more than 11% of adults aged 65 or over report experiencing cognitive decline.

In addition to being an impairment of mental function in older adults, mild cognitive impairment may also be a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. However, age-related cognitive decline does not always worsen or lead to Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.

Still, many cases of cognitive decline go undiagnosed. This is partly due to problems with current methods of detecting cognitive decline. If cognitive decline were better diagnosed, more people could access treatment, which could prevent or delay the onset of dementia.

In an effort to find a more effective method to detect cognitive decline as a risk factor for dementia, a recent study used a combination of music tests and electroencephalogram (EEG) recordings to identify cognitive decline in older adults.

The research was conducted by the company EEG Neurosteer and Tel Aviv University in Israel and is published in the journal Frontiers of the neurosciences of aging.

The present study included 50 patients from the inpatient rehabilitation ward of the Dorot-Netanya Geriatric Medical Center in Israel, with an average age of 77, and 22 healthy controls.

To assess participants’ cognitive status, each participant completed the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE), the current gold standard for assessing cognitive function. This manual assessment is usually performed by a trained occupational therapist and includes a variety of tasks designed to test cognitive abilities.

Next, participants were asked to complete a simple music test.

Participants played short melodies and had to press a button when the melody played. Over time, the task increased in difficulty, with participants being asked to press a button while only one type of instrument was playing.

As they completed the test, participants wore a strip of electrodes on their foreheads to measure electrical activity in their brains, known as EEG. The researchers wanted to see if brain activity recorded by EEG could match participants to their previously measured cognitive state.

Using machine learning, the researchers were able to detect patterns in EEG recordings that correlated with clinically validated measures of cognitive status recorded earlier.

They found that participants’ reaction times and EEG recordings were significantly correlated with these measures.

EEG recordings could not only separate younger participants (healthy controls) from older participants, but could also separate older participants with different levels of cognitive ability.

The results suggest that this technique is sensitive to even subtle changes in cognitive abilities and could be a useful way to detect cognitive decline before it is measurable using current methods.

“Our method makes it possible to monitor cognitive abilities and detect cognitive decline at the earliest stages in simple and accessible ways, with a quick and easy test that can be performed in any clinic,” the researchers said in a statement. communicated. Press release.

Currently, the MMSE test is usually only performed after observing symptoms and, as a subjective assessment, individual variables, such as age and level of education, can also affect scores.

The researchers’ approach to testing cognitive function with music – which uses a new, more portable form of EEG requiring only three electrodes – has several practical advantages, including being non-invasive, inexpensive and requiring only a short installation and test time (15 minutes). The device can be used by any member of staff, according to the researchers, without special training.

The researchers note that the test can even be pleasant from the patient’s point of view.

“Everyone who underwent the experiment reported that on the one hand it was brain-challenging, but on the other hand it was very pleasant to perform,” said lead author Neta Maimon, a doctoral student at the Tel Aviv School of Psychological Sciences. University, in a press release.

According to the researchers, music tests like this stimulate multiple centers in the brain, while being fun to perform and potentially mood-boosting.

The hope for this form of testing is that it could help predict cognitive decline at an early stage, allowing earlier and more effective treatment and preventing severe dementia.

“Prophylactic tests of this type are widely accepted for a variety of physiological problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure or breast cancer; however, to date, no method has yet been developed to enable systematic and accessible monitoring of the brain for cognitive problems,” the researchers wrote.

Although the results look promising, it is important to note that this pilot study involves a relatively small number of participants.

The authors say future studies should include a longer testing period, a larger patient cohort, and testing over time to assess cognitive status throughout the aging process.

This is in line with comments DTM received from Dr. Giovanni Di Libertowhose research focuses on auditory-cognitive neuroscience, using methods including EEG:

“Finding objective measures like this is important, and it’s something I’m working on in my own research,” Dr. Di Liberto said.

“However, it is important to note that the results of this study are preliminary. The authors themselves call their study a “pilot” survey.

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