Music and Medicine Faculty Receive $2.25M NIH Grant to Study Music as a Cognitive Intervention in Older Adults

Monday, November 06, 2017
Portraits of Dr. Jerri Edwards (left) and Dr. Jennifer Bugos (right)

Dr. Jerri Edwards (left) and Dr. Jennifer Bugos (right) have collaborated on interdisciplinary research projects since 2011. Their latest project is funded by the National Institutes of Health's National Institute on Aging and is their most extensive undertaking yet.

Dr. Jerri Edwards, professor of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences, and Dr. Jennifer Bugos, associate professor of music education, have received a grant of $2.25 million from the National Institutes of Health's National Institute on Aging to study music training as a cognitive intervention in older adults with and without mild cognitive impairment.

This extensive and well-funded three-year study titled "Interventions to Attenuate Cognitive Decline" aims to build upon existing pilot studies, which show preliminary evidence on how music training may improve cognitive abilities in older adults who are non-musicians.

The research project studies adults age 60 and over with a focus on identifying how music training influences those with and without mild cognitive impairment – a condition Edwards describes as being "in-between" normal aging and dementia. Edwards, who is overseeing the cognitive measures of the study, says this may be an ideal time to intervene with brain-training.

"An ultimate goal is to be able to delay dementia by intervening," said Edwards, principal investigator in the study. "Not everyone who has mild cognitive impairment gets dementia, some get better, but they are at a higher risk of dementia than older adults who have not reached that stage of cognitive decline."

According to the Alzheimer's Association, long-term studies show that as many as 15 to 20 percent of those aged 65 and older may have mild cognitive decline. Bugos enjoys the chance to help those who are at this critical stage.

"It's like a dream to be able to apply the research that I've worked on for years to individuals who have mild cognitive impairment," said Bugos. "To have the opportunity to see if music may be a cognitive intervention for those at the very beginning stages of mild cognitive impairment – it's exciting."

As co-investigator, Bugos is responsible for music training and for ensuring the training follows standardized protocols. Her previous research includes pilot studies on the outcomes of music training on certain age groups, including older adults, middle-aged adults, and preschool children, as well as an ongoing study on those formally diagnosed with Parkinson's disease.

Other USF collaborators include Dr. Jennifer Lister, assistant dean of undergraduate studies and professor of communication sciences and disorders, as well as Professor Ross Andel of the USF School of Aging Studies and Professor Ming Ji of the USF College of Nursing.

Bugos notes how enthusiastic participants are to engage with music.

"In our pilot studies, we've worked with individuals from all over the greater Tampa Bay area," said Bugos. "Some will drive an hour or more away just to come and participate in our music interventions."

In the classroom, participants have the opportunity to learn a new skill, make new friends, and see themselves make rapid progress, said Bugos. While some are apprehensive at first, she finds participants quickly dispel any negative music experiences as they are immersed in the supportive group sessions full of beginning musicians.

Furthermore, Bugos sees the benefits of music training via the feedback of participants.

Participants mention how they are better able to remember events in their everyday lives – such as where they put their car keys – or how they feel more empowered to make music. Stories which, Bugos says, correspond to the emerging data on the benefits of music training.

Above all, Bugos is excited to take on this interdisciplinary research project at an institution so committed interdisciplinary research.

Edwards and Bugos are currently recruiting for this study. The first music interventions begin January 2018 at the USF Tampa campus. Adults over the age of 60 who are interested in participating in this study should contact the USF Cognitive Aging Lab at (813) 974-6703.