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12/01/2016 02:33 pm ET | Updated Dec 02, 2016

Attending The Symphony Reverses Cognitive Decline, Study Finds

The study is small, but its implications are big.

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A Colorado State University study found that the majority of dementia and Alzheimer’s participants experienced an unexpected reversal of cognitive decline from listening to classical music.

While the study was limited in size, the results as they relate to cognitive decline reversal, are huge, said the lead researcher, Jeni Cross. Eleven of 15 participants saw a reversal of cognitive decline. 

“That’s stunning for people who have a degenerative disease,” said Cross, an associate professor in CSU’s Department of Sociology. “The best we had hoped for was to keep cognitive function flat. It actually improved for most of them.” She urged further study on a larger scale.

The study ― known as the B Sharp program ― also reported heightened alertness and engagement and more positive interactions between caregivers and their loved ones.

Cross said the program also benefited caregivers, who often become isolated and lose reciprocal relationships because of their loved one’s decreasing ability to give back. The program gave them a sense of normalcy and allowed them to connect with other caregivers who were in the same situation.

The researchers used the Geriatric Depression Scale as well as surveys, interviews and focus groups to measure things like mood, connectedness and support. Cross said the positive effect on participants’ mood began days before each performance, as they anticipated the upcoming concert. And even those with severe forms of dementia remembered the next day that something important had happened the night before.

Cross acknowledged that the findings are preliminary, given the limited sample size, but called the results promising. She said three journal articles about the findings are in the works. The B Sharp program was funded by the university, Banner Health, Kaiser Permanente, the Fort Collins Symphony, the Larimer County Office on Aging, the Alzheimer’s Association and an area certified dementia practitioner. Each participant was given season tickets to five performances and concert receptions.

Music’s positive effects on Alzheimer’s and dementia patients have been recognized by the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America. “Music can shift mood, manage stress-induced agitation, stimulate positive interactions, facilitate cognitive function, and coordinate motor movements,” notes the group’s website.

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