Student Spotlight: Junior Rhea Vikas’ research study benefits older people’s cognition

Rhea Vikas looks to find ways that music can alleviate symptoms of dementia and Alzheimers. Photo courtesy of Rhea Vikas.

By Kaitlin Sides | Reporter

During her sophomore year, Katy junior Rhea Vikas pitched an idea to conduct a research study on how music affects retirement home patients suffering from dementia and Alzheimers. The study was approved in June.

Vikas serves as president of Music and Memory, which helped her get to where she is now in the study. As a freshman, she was involved in research on campus and enjoyed her time being a research assistant. Vikas also volunteered at a retirement facility.

Vikas said her main goal was to reduce agitation and depression in the patients, so their memory could get better.

“So that little aspect of the study is what we’re hoping to see in them in the future,” Vikas said. “This semester, we’re trying to see if music actually reduces the symptoms, and then in the future, we’ll test how much merit it has with their memory.”

A medical humanities major, Vikas is also in the school of music and participates in the orchestra. Vikas wanted to start this study to combine her two passions.

“I really wanted to pull in like the music school to be involved, as well as like pre-health students that have an interest in this, because there’s not many labs here on campus that focus on this type of research,” Vikas said.

The study is called “Baylor students x Providence Village: Revolutionizing Dementia Care with Music.” It takes place at Ascension Providence Hospital located here in Waco. There are currently 18 research assistants, all Baylor students and a PI team that includes Vikas working on the project. To help students participate in this study, Baylor opened a class to become a research partner.

Humble junior Trisha Cacanindin joined the PI team in December and has been working on helping with documentation and making the study as polished as possible.

Cacanindin said her favorite thing in the research study has been getting to know the patients.

“I’ve gotten to see some of them have a real passion for being at the music performance,” Cacanindin said. “I’ve gotten to learn some of their names and communicate with them, and they’re just really sweet. Getting to see face-to-face who I’m trying to serve, by doing the study. That’s been like a highlight of this entire thing.”

The research group and the Baylor graduate brass chamber group both volunteer a couple days a week to play for the residents. The hard work the team has been putting into the study has started to show positive results.

“It’s crazy to see currently … right now we’re seeing benefits from the music and significant benefits,” Vikas said. “It’s really assuring to see our hypothesis is working, and that always is great for a researcher.”

Kaitlin Sides is a Junior journalism major with a corporate communications minor. She is excited to be a part of the Lariat TV News staff as a broadcast reporter. In the future she hopes to work as a full time video editor in Charleston, South Carolina, or work for a fashion magazine. When not working, she enjoys spending time at Pinewood Coffee shop or time with her friends!