Music on your mind

Psychologist Lee-Fay Low and music scholars Neal Peres Da Costa and Helen Mitchell uncover the question: can music participation help to prevent dementia?

Currently there’s no cure for dementia, which is estimated to affect nearly half a million Australians and this is expected to double over 30 years. So a key question is prevention and there is potential we have an effective, and enjoyable, way to do just that. 

We know there’s a link between music training and brain plasticity. Neuroimaging has shown that music improves structure and function of the brain. Studies on young people and musicians show that learning or playing an instrument boosts brain connectivity. But there hasn’t been robust evidence to show how these benefits can be leveraged for later life. 

In a public conversation, Professors Lee-Fay Low, psychologist and chair of Sydney Dementia Network; and Neal Peres Da Costa and Helen Mitchell from Sydney Conservatorium of Music, share insights from their pioneering research, which tests whether musical activity can be a viable health intervention for people experiencing mild cognitive decline.

This event was held on Thursday 20 June 2024 at Sydney Conservatorium of Music.


Video, podcast and transcript coming soon. Check back this page for updates.

The speakers

Professor Lee Fay Low, Sydney Dementia Network

Lee-Fay is Professor in Ageing and Health and psychologist at the University of Sydney. Lee-Fay is chair of the Sydney Dementia Network, which brings together researchers, clinicians and consumers to fast track research into practice. Her main areas of research are in dementia and ageing, home and residential aged care particularly practice and culture change, rehabilitation for dementia, dementia literacy and stigma, and people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. 

Professor Helen Mitchell, Sydney Conservatorium of Music

Helen has a multidisciplinary background in music, as a singer, music scholar and music performance researcher and her research is situated at the intersection between music practice and scientific discovery. She graduated in music from the University of Oxford in 2000 and moved to Sydney to undertake doctoral studies at the Conservatorium of Music in 2001. At the Con, Helen convenes Postgraduate and Honours Research Methods courses and takes graduate seminars in empirical music studies and research ethics. 

Professor Neal Peres Da Costa, Sydney Conservatorium of Music

Neal is a world-renowned performing scholar, researcher and educator. He has held academic posts at the University of NSW, University of Leeds, Trinity College of Music (London), and Royal Academy of Music (London). He is Professor of Historical Performance at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music where he founded the Historical Performance division in 2007, and was the division's chair for eight years. Subsequently, he was Program Leader of Postgraduate Research. Currently, he is Associate Dean (Research).

Angharad Yeo. Photo credit: ABC

Host: Angharad Yeo, TV and radio presenter

Angharad 'Rad' Yeo is an award-winning television and radio presenter, MC, and critic. Her deep passion for technology, science, arts, and culture puts her in a unique position to dissect the rapidly changing landscape we find ourselves in - including the rise of AI - with insight, intelligence, and an energetic spirit. Her credits include pop culture podcast Game For Anything, Double J, ABC ME's Good Game Spawn Point, Catalyst, Queens of the Drone Age, ABC Science's Elevator Pitch.

Dr Philip Eames, Sydney Conservatorium of Music

Philip is one of Australia's most versatile young musicians. An accomplished pianist, composer, conductor and researcher based in Sydney, his musical outputs are diverse and prolific. Hailing from Brisbane, Philip studied piano at the Queensland Conservatorium and went on to further study at Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester. Currently he is a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music working as part of the Spencer-Bennett NeuroMusic Collaborative, and the Classical Convenor and lecturer at the Australian Institute of Music.

Professor Sharon Naismith, Brain and Mind Centre

Sharon is a practicing clinical neuropsychologist, NHMRC Dementia Leadership Fellow and holds the Leonard P Ullman Chair in Psychology at the Charles Perkins Centre, University of Sydney. She also Heads the Healthy Brain Ageing Program at the Brain and Mind Centre, a one-of-its-kind early intervention research clinic for dementia. Sharon is also a member of the Australian Psychological Society.

Due to unforseen circumstances, Professor Naismith was unable to make the event but we want to acknowledge and thank Sharon for her time and efforts in preparing for the conversation, as well as Professor Lee-Fay Low for stepping in on the day.