Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Cognitive Neuroscience


Loraine Obler

Subject Categories

Cognition and Perception | Cognitive Neuroscience | Health Psychology | Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing | Recreational Therapy


music therapy, dementia, selective attention, alzheimers, cognition, elderly adults


As people age, the brain is more susceptible to changes that diminish cognitive function. In recent years neuroscience has found convergent evidence between music therapy and brain architecture, as it has shown the generation of new connections in the brain or a reorganization and possible strengthening of existing connections already in the brain. However, the literature regarding music training’s effects on executive control, selective attention, and speech processing is lacking particularly when it comes to older populations.

This study investigated Verbal Working Memory, Visuospatial Attention and Task Initiation, and Auditory Selective Attention in a 91-year-old adult (B.P.) diagnosed with dementia. Using neuropsychological batteries, the participant, B.P. was assessed at baseline (48 hours before music therapy) and again immediately after music therapy.

Through completion of a Free Recall Assessment evaluating Verbal Working Memory there was an observed increase in recall speed (19 seconds), but no difference in recall accuracy (60%). The Trail Making Task assessing Visuospatial Attention and Task Initiation showed a slight increase in completion time (4 seconds). The Word-in-Noise Task measuring auditory selective attention showed slight improvement in both ears on the SRT-50 after music therapy was administered (~.6dB). Such a finding suggests that music training may be able to enhance selective attention allowing keener discrimination of speech in background noise. Additionally, there were observed qualitative differences in means between the participant, B.P. and healthy matched controls (n = 3) across all tasks. The effects of Music Therapy were shown to improve cognition marginally, but the implications begin a conversation on Music Therapy as a viable intervention against cognitive decline in the clinical setting.