Playing a musical instrument is good for brain health later in life

Playing a musical instrument or singing could help keep the brain healthy in old age, British researchers suggest.

According to their study, practicing and reading music can help maintain good memory and the ability to solve complex tasks.

In their report, published in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, they argue that music should be considered as part of a lifestyle approach to maintaining the brain.

More than 1,100 people aged over 40, with an average age of 68, were studied.

Scientists from the University of Exeter looked at their data on brain function as part of a larger study to determine how the brain ages and why people develop dementia.

They looked at the effects of playing an instrument, singing, reading and listening to music, and musical abilities.

The researchers compared the cognitive data of people in the study who engaged with music in some way in their lives, with those who never did.

Their results showed that people who played a musical instrument benefited the most, which could be due to the “multiple cognitive demands” of the activity.

Playing piano or keyboard seemed to be particularly beneficial, while brass and woodwinds were also good.

Simply listening to music does not appear to improve cognitive health.

According to the researchers, the benefits of singing could be explained in part by the known social aspects of being part of a choir or group.

“Because we have very sensitive brain tests for this study, we are able to examine individual aspects of brain function, such as short-term memory, long-term memory and problem solving, as well as “The effect of engaging music on that is moving forward,” author Anne Corbett told the BBC.

“It certainly confirms and cements on a much larger scale what we already know about the benefits of music.

“Specifically, playing an instrument has a particularly strong effect, and people who continue playing into older ages see an added benefit,” she said.

Public health message

In the study, people who regularly read music had better digital memory.

Professor Corbett said: “Our brain is a muscle like any other muscle and it needs to be exercised, and learning to read music is a bit like learning a new language, it’s a challenge.”

Researchers have not tested the potential benefits of taking up a musical hobby for the first time later in life, but Professor Corbett said she thought, based on current evidence, it would be “very beneficial”.

Professor Corbett said that while further research was needed, promoting music education could be a “valuable” part of a public health message, as would encouraging older people to return to music later in life.

“The message is about how people can proactively reduce their risk of cognitive decline or dementia, and really think about engaging with music to do this. This study suggests this could be part of an approach “a much broader lifestyle approach aimed at improving brain health as we age.”

However, she said: “It would be naive to think that practicing a musical instrument would mean you won’t develop dementia. It’s not as simple as that.”

Dementia UK said the results were “positive”.

“The ability to make or play music – whether singing or playing an instrument – ​​can continue even when people with dementia have lost other abilities and means of communication,” said Caroline Scates from the Association.

“If you know someone with dementia who enjoys, or has enjoyed, singing or playing an instrument, it may be beneficial to keep these instruments or sheet music on hand for them to play or read.”

Stuart Douglas, 78, has been playing the accordion regularly since he was eight. He said it keeps his brain “active” and helps others too.

“We regularly play at memory cafes, so we have seen the effect our music has on people suffering from memory loss and, as older musicians, we believe that continuing to listen to music until ‘at older ages has played an important role in keeping our brains healthy.’

The study was supported by the National Institute for Health and Care Research.

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