Musical instrument training program improves verbal memory and neural efficiency in novice older adults

Hum Brain Mapp. 2021 Apr 1;42(5):1359-1375. doi: 10.1002/hbm.25298. Epub 2020 Dec 8.


Previous studies indicate that musical instrument training may improve the cognitive function of older adults. However, little is known about the neural origins of training-related improvement in cognitive function. Here, we assessed the effects of instrumental training program on cognitive functions and neural efficiency in musically naïve older adults (61-85 years old). Participants were assigned to either the intervention group, which received a 4-month instrumental training program using keyboard harmonica, or a control group without any alternative training. Cognitive measurements and functional magnetic resonance imaging during visual working memory (VWM) task were administered before and after the intervention in both groups. Behavioral data revealed that the intervention group significantly improved memory performance on the test that measures verbal recall compared to the control group. Neuroimaging data revealed that brain activation in the right supplementary motor area, left precuneus, and bilateral posterior cingulate gyrus (PCgG) during the VWM task decreased after instrumental training only in the intervention group. Task-related functional connectivity (FC) analysis revealed that the intervention group showed decreased FC between the right PCgG and left middle temporal gyrus, and between the left putamen and right superior temporal gyrus (lPu-rSTG) during a VWM task after the intervention. Furthermore, a greater improvement in memory performance in the intervention group was associated with a larger reduction in lPu-rSTG FC, which might be interpreted as improved neural efficiency. Our results indicate that the musical instrument training program may contribute to improvements in verbal memory and neural efficiency in novice older adults.

Keywords: aging; instrumental intervention; neural efficiency; randomized controlled trial; verbal memory.