Our lab, in partnership with the University of Pittsburgh, presented the work of Project Unmute at the 2021 Engaging Humanities in Health Cross-Disciplinary Conference at the University of Pittsburgh. We were honored to share our work exploring the feasibility of Project Unmute, an intergenerational music program delivered by teenage musicians to older adults facing cognitive decline.
We are excited to share that our systematic review and meta-analysis, which examines the effects of participating in music on the cognitive functioning of older adults in the early and moderate stages of memory loss, is published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. This paper came out of the close partnership between the University of Pittsburgh's Occupational Therapy Department and Carnegie Mellon University's School of Music. We are grateful to CMU professor Dr. Stephen Neely for sharing his music expertise as an author on this paper.
Marimba research presented at the Gerontological Society of America's 2020 Annual Scientific Meeting
Jennie presented a poster about her research studying the effects of learning the marimba and reading musical notation on spatial skills at the 2020 Annual Scientific Meeting of the Gerontological Society of America.
Read our abstract: Developing a Spatial-Skills-Focused Music Program For Older Adults with Changes in Cognition.
By Kelly Saavedra
Jennie Dorris stood behind her marimba calling out the name of each musical note as she struck its corresponding wooden bar with a rubber mallet, “C! E! F! … Now, roll the G!”
Half a dozen older adults followed her lead, using rubber mallets to strike the notes on their own marimbas. The deep, rich tones resonated around the classroom.
Dorris studies music's effect on the aging brain. She is a research associate in Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Music, and the classroom was her laboratory before the pandemic pushed the pause button on group gatherings. Her students are local residents with mild cognitive impairment who hope learning music will stave off dementia. Dorris hopes it will, too. Read more:
CMU's School of Music received a Lifting Lives grant from the Academy of Country music to study the potential effect of learning to play the marimba on the spatial skills of older adults.
Principal investigator, CMU Research Associate Jennie Dorris along with BriTE music instructor Heather DiCicco and CMU Research Assistants Dustin Grimes, Diana McLaughlin, and Casey Ferguson, completed a six-week study closely watching the effects of music classes on participants’ spatial navigation. Pedagogical exercises in reading music notation, improvisation, and composition exploited music’s abilities to challenge participants’ spatial navigation of the instrument.
Initial findings show that attending marimba classes twice a week yielded positive musical results for participants -- despite the curriculum growing more difficult each week, participants could successfully perform the exercises.
BRiTE program's first national coverage: "Innovative program aids older adults with mild memory loss."
by Tony Dearing
PITTSBURGH -- Two days a week, Jennie Dorris raises her baton to help an unlikely group of musicians melodize their way to better brain health.
Few of her students have previous musical training. Their concern is more medical. They've been diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment, and the marimba lessons she leads on Mondays and Fridays are part of an innovative wellness program designed to help slow their memory loss.
Research has shown music can be instrumental (pun intended) in keeping our mind sharp as we age.
So when scientists at the University of Pittsburgh set out to create a program aimed specifically at people with MCI, the idea of including a marimba class struck the right chord.
"We chose these types of instruments because they are very visual, and you can sort of feel like you're playing a game while you're learning a melody," Dorris says. "This is a really unique way to connect with people who want to work on their memory."
Sally Newman, Sam Williams and Barry Leonard play the marimba in Jennie Dorris's (back left) music class at BRiTE on Friday, February 17, 2017. CREDIT LIZ REID / 90.5 WESA
A visit to the Brain Exercise and Training Program at the University of Pittsburgh
"Jennie Dorris’s four music students each stood, mallets in hand, behind a marimba, which looks a little like a xylophone. They were getting one last look at the original melody they wrote before Dorris erased it from the dry erase board and they had to play it from memory.
"'Take a look at it. Use the contours, look at your instrument,' Dorris told her students. 'Let’s see how it goes.'"
Read the full article and listen to the audio here.
Credit to the P-G's Nate Guidry for the video.