Musical Tests Detect Mental Deterioration in Older Individuals

The method is based on a measurement of 15 minutes of electrical activity in the brain while performing simple tasks.

Investigators at Tel Aviv University in Israel have developed a method of musical tests and a portable instrument for measuring brain activity that detects cognitive decline in older individuals.

The method is based on a measurement of 15 minutes of electrical activity in the brain while performing simple tasks, according to the investigators.

They added that this could be easily implemented by staff in any clinic without requiring special training, they said.

“Our method enables routine monitoring and early detection of cognitive decline in order to provide treatment and prevent rapid, severe deterioration. Prophylactic tests of this kind are commonly accepted for a variety of physiological problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure or breast cancer,” investigators said in a statement.

“However, to date no method has yet been developed to enable routine, accessible monitoring of the brain for cognitive issues,” they said.

The investigators developed the method by combining a portable device for the measurement and analysis of electroencephalography (EEG), which was developed by Neurosteer, and a short musical test of about 12 to 15 minutes, which was developed by Neta Maimon, PhD, from Neurosteer.

As part of the test, the individual is connected to the portable EEG device with an adhesive band with 3 electrodes attached to the forehead. The individual performs a series of musical-cognitive tasks according to the audible instructions given through earphones.

The tasks include short melodies played by various instruments where the individual is instructed to perform various tasks with varying difficulty. One task includes the individual pressing a button each time any melody is playing, while another is pressing it when a violin plays.

Additionally, the test has several minutes of musically guided meditation to bring the brain into a resting state, which can indicate cerebral functioning in various situations.

Music influences different centers in the brain by being a quick mood stimulant, particularly related to positive emotions, Maimon said.

Music can also be cognitively challenging, activating the frontal part of the brain.

By combining these capabilities, the cognitive tests can be complex but are still easy to perform, she said.

In the study, investigators included 50 elderly individuals who were hospitalized at Dorot-Netanya Geriatric Medical Center and scored 18 to 30 on the mini-mental test, which is a standard test to evaluate cognitive condition as part of the intake process. A higher score shows normal cognition.

The individuals performed the musical-cognitive tasks, and the EEG devices measured the electrical activity in the brain. Investigators analyzed the results using machine learning technology.

The investigators found that the mathematical indices could be correlated with the mini-mental test scores, which showed that the investigators discovered new brain markers that could stand alone as indices of an individual’s cognitive status.

“We have actually succeeded in illustrating that music is indeed an effective tool for measuring brain activity. The brain activity and response times to tasks correlated to the [individuals’] cerebral conditions, correlating to the mini-mental score assigned to them,” Maimon said.

“More importantly, all those who underwent the experiment reported that, on the one hand, it challenged the brain, but on the other it was very pleasant to perform,” she said.

The study results were published in Frontiers in Aging and Neuroscience.

Reference

Musical tests can detect mental deterioration in old age. News release. Science Daily. August 17, 2022. Accessed August 23, 2022. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2022/08/220817104010.htm

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