Publication Date



Open access

Embargo Period


Degree Name

Master of Music (MM)


Music Education and Music Therapy (Music)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

Teresa Lesiuk

Second Committee Member

Shannon K. de l’Etoile

Third Committee Member

James G. Moore


This study investigated the effects of stimulus complexity and cognitive impairments on rhythmic motor entrainment behaviors in the elderly. Participants (n = 24) between the ages of 70 and 90 provided demographic information, completed the St. Louis University Mental Status Examination, and finger-tapped on an iPad© to three different auditory stimulus conditions with varying levels of complexity: Simple Rhythm, Music and Rhythm, and Simple Music. Two repeated measures ANOVA analyses compared synchronization error mean (SE-mean) and variance (SE-variance) values between each of the conditions and between the two cognitive groups (Elderly no-CI and Elderly w-CI). These analyses showed a significant difference in SE-variance between the two cognitive groups and significant differences in SE-mean values between the Music and Rhythm condition and the other two stimulus conditions for all older adults. Additional correlation and regression analyses showed significant relationships between cognitive abilities and entrainment accuracy indicating that lower cognitive functioning and less education result in less accurate entrainment abilities. This study provides basic data to support further research on the appropriateness of using of certain music therapy protocols with older adults with cognitive impairments. Through discussion and future recommendations, the study concludes that future research should confirm the effect of cognitive decline on entrainment accuracy, investigate ways to improve entrainment accuracy for older adults with mild cognitive impairments, and further investigate the relationship between entrainment accuracy and cognitive abilities such as attention and memory.


music therapy; entrainment; elderly; Alzheimer's; cognitive impairment; auditory stimulus complexity