- Mounting evidence suggests learning an instrument can reduce the risk of dementia
- New study shows playing a musical instrument is associated with better memory and cognitive function
- Active musicians have “younger” brains and better cognitive abilities
- Studies reveal physical differences in the brains of older adults who learn to play an instrument
- Playing an instrument in older adulthood lowers the likelihood of developing dementia by 64%
Dementia is a debilitating condition that many individuals fear, and now there is growing evidence that learning a musical instrument could be an effective way to reduce the risk. A recent study conducted by researchers from Exeter, Brunel, and London universities has shed light on the positive impact of playing an instrument on brain health, particularly in older adults. These findings add to a body of research spanning decades that highlights the cognitive benefits of musical training.
The Power of Music on the Brain
Improving Memory and Cognitive Function
The study, which involved 1,100 older adults with an average age of 68, found a significant association between playing a musical instrument and better working memory and executive function. Moreover, the researchers discovered positive links between singing and executive function, as well as overall musical ability and working memory. Interestingly, the results showed that individuals currently playing an instrument performed better than those who had learned as children but did not continue.
These findings are consistent with previous studies that have shown musicians outperforming nonmusicians on cognitive tests. Musicians exhibit enhanced global cognition, working memory, executive functions, language skills, and visuospatial abilities. Brain imaging studies using MRI have even revealed structural differences in the brains of professional musicians, suggesting that active engagement in music can lead to “younger” brains.
Physical Changes in the Brain
Intriguingly, brain scans can even differentiate between individuals who play different types of instruments. Seneca Block, a music therapist and adjunct instructor in psychiatry at Case Western Reserve University, explains that the brain scans of piano players differ from those of stringed-instrument players. This suggests that different instruments may stimulate and engage specific regions of the brain, further enhancing cognitive abilities.
Studies Reinforcing the Link
The study mentioned above is not an outlier; it aligns with numerous other research endeavors. In one study, older adults aged 62 to 72 received piano training for six months, resulting in physical changes in their brains compared to a control group. Another study showed an increase in gray matter in five different brain areas after six months of piano training. Even short-term training, lasting as little as two weeks, has been found to have a positive impact on cognitive function.
One particularly compelling study involved twins aged 65 and older in Sweden. Among the pairs where one twin had cognitive impairment or dementia while the other did not, those who had learned to play an instrument were found to have a 64% lower likelihood of developing dementia or cognitive impairment. This finding suggests a direct correlation between learning an instrument and reduced dementia risk.
While some skeptics argue that these studies only demonstrate correlation and not causation, the mounting evidence is difficult to ignore. Learning a musical instrument has been consistently associated with improved memory, cognitive function, and a reduced risk of dementia. Whether it’s the piano, saxophone, flute, or any other instrument, engaging in regular practice and playing for at least two to three hours a week can yield significant benefits for brain health.
Considering the potential impact on cognitive abilities and the reduced risk of dementia, it seems logical to apply Pascal’s Bet principle and embrace the power of music. The time invested in learning an instrument may prove to be a valuable safeguard against the devastating effects of dementia. So, why wait for definitive proof when the opportunity to improve brain health is within reach?
Let the harmonious melodies of music guide us towards a future free from the shadows of dementia.