Can music contribute to the cognitive health of the elderly?

Marcelo Rabello dos Santos, Entrance Graduate Program Psychology and Health from Universidade Federal de Ciências da Saúde de Porto Alegre, Porto Alegre, RS, Brazil.

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Recent studies suggest that the brain maintains its plasticity throughout life. In other words, we are capable of new learning throughout our lives and aging can no longer be seen as a process that leads to the incapacity for new learning and irreversible cognitive impairments. Would music be able to produce neuroplastic changes that result in cognitive benefits or at least in reducing the cognitive decline normally seen during aging? The article “Effects of musical improvisation as a cognitive and motor intervention for the elderly” published in the journal Estudos de Psicologia (Campinas, vol. 38) addressed the the effects of music on the executive and motor functioning of healthy elderly.

In a randomized study, an intervention based on percussion and improvisation exercises was compared to a choral singing activity in the metropolitan region of Porto Alegre. There were 37 elderly people who were over 60 years of age who participated in the study and were randomly divided into two groups. One group participated in a musical improvisation workshop using percussion instruments. The other group participated in choral singing activity.

A set of neuropsychological and motor was applied before and after musical activities by a multidisciplinary team. The results suggest that the group that carried out the musical improvisation workshop obtained gains in executive functions that are important cognitive processes that involve, for example, the planning of daily activities. However, when it comes to attention – another important and better-known cognitive process – the results suggest that both groups won.

The current scenario of growing age of the world population requires the development of strategies that help preserve mental and cognitive health. The information obtained in this study allows us to suggest that the practice of musical activities, especially musical improvisation, may contribute to delay the cognitive decline typical of aging.

Next, listen to the podcast by Marcelo Rabello dos Santos and Monique Siebra Krug presenting more information about the research.


DOIDGE, N. O cérebro que se transforma. Rio de Janeiro: Record, 2011.

NERI, A. L. and YASSUDA, M. S. Velhice bem-sucedida: aspectos afetivos e cognitivos. Campinas: Papirus, 2004.

PERETZ, I. and ZATORRE, R. J. The cognitive neuroscience of music. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

To read the article, access

SANTOS, M. R. dos, et al. Effects of musical improvisation as a cognitive and motor intervention for the elderly. Estud. psicol. (Campinas) [online]. 2021, vol. 38, e190132, ISSN: 1982-0275 [viewed 15 September 2020]. DOI: 10.1590/1982-0275202138e190132. Available from:

External links

Estudos de Psicologia (Campinas) – ESTPSI:


Como citar este post [ISO 690/2010]:

SANTOS, M. R. dos. Can music contribute to the cognitive health of the elderly? [online]. SciELO in Perspective: Humanities, 2020 [viewed ]. Available from:


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