Improvements in Verbal Memory Following a Piano Training Intervention in Older Adults at Risk for Dementia

Kassidy Hogan, University of Georgia, Athens, United States
Jade Dandurand, University of Georgia, Athens, United States
Stephen Correia, University of Georgia, Athens, United States
Lawrence Sweet, University of Georgia, Athens, United States
Jenay Beer, University of Georgia, Athens, United States
Lisa Renzi-Hammond, University of Georgia, Athens, United States


Multimodal cognitive training interventions involving novel tasks (e.g., music learning), have been shown to improve cognitive performance, particularly memory, in older adults at risk for dementia. Previous studies using music learning as cognitive training have generally found improvements in verbal memory performance but lack detail about which components are affected (e.g., encoding, recall). We investigated the predicted impact of piano training on verbal memory encoding and delayed recall in older adults with subjective memory complaints.

Participants and Methods:

Forty-one older adults (M=72.7+/-4.9 years, 65.1% female,17% non-white) with self-reported memory loss and a baseline score of 24-37 on the Telephone Interview for Cognitive Status (TICS) were recruited. Auditory memory was measured using the Wechsler Memory Scale IV Auditory Memory Index (AMI) at baseline and post-intervention as part of a structured neuropsychological battery. The AMI was comprised of two forms of verbal information presented aurally: Verbal Paired Associates (VPA) I and II and Logical Memory (LM) I and II according to standard administration. The 6-month intervention consisted of a computer-administered weekly piano lesson and 30 minutes of daily home practice. Participants were provided an 88-key weighted keyboard to use for home practice.


There was a significant increase in AMI raw scores post-intervention (M = 48.2, SD = 9.9) compared to scores pre-intervention (M = 43.0, SD = 10.3), t(40) = 7.23, p < .001. With regard to VPA, significant improvements were seen in both immediate recall (t(40) = 5.76, p < .001) and delayed recall scores (t(40) = 3.63, p < .001). Similarly, LM performance significantly improved across both immediate (t(40) = 4.09, p < .001) and delayed recall (t(40) = 3.74, p < .001).


Participants with memory complaints experience positive changes in both encoding and storage/retrieval of aurally presented verbal information. This study suggests that piano learning, as a novel activity, may be an effective intervention to slow late-life cognitive decline and possibly delay the impact of neurodegenerative cognitive disorders.

Category: Aging

Keyword 1: memory complaints
Keyword 2: dementia - Alzheimer's disease
Keyword 3: neuropsychological assessment