Melissa PateHave you ever heard the term “cognitive flexibility?” Despite what it may sound like, it doesn’t mean your brain can do the splits! Rather, it is an executive functioning skill that allows your brain to switch concepts or think about multiple concepts at the same time. As one ages and may experience mild cognitive decline, cognitive flexibility can enhance ability to live and function independently.

Research has shown that both physical exercise and music training can enhance cognitive functioning in older adults. What would happen if we combined the two? Would that improve cognitive flexibility and quality of life? Carolyn Moore, PhD, MT-BC and Teresa Lesiuk, PhD, MT-BC set out to answer this question. Participants in this study met with the researcher individually to either take part in the Music-Movement Intervention or Music-Only Intervention. Heart rate, exertion, and cognitive flexibility were tested before & after each intervention. What they found was that regardless of cognitive status, participants who took part in the MMI significantly improved their cognitive flexibility over time, while participants in the MOI did not experience comparable results.

So, what does this mean? If we want to impact cognitive flexibility in a novel way, multimodal interventions such as music and movement is an effective way to do so. Combining familiar music with instrument-playing tasks is more motivating and is more likely to hold residents’ attention. It would probably make them smile as well, which is always the goal for us music therapists. For questions on how we integrate multimodal stimulation into music therapy, please contact Melissa Pate, MT-BC at

Carolyn Moore, Teresa Lesiuk, The Effect of a Music-Movement Intervention on Arousal and Cognitive Flexibility in Older Adults With and Without Mild Neurocognitive Disorder, Music Therapy Perspectives, Volume 36, Issue 1, Spring 2018, Pages 127-128