Singing or playing an instrument might be beneficial to maintaining a healthy brain in later years, according to studies conducted in the United Kingdom.
Based on the findings of their research, it seems that practicing and reading music may help maintain a strong memory and the capacity to handle complicated problems.
In the paper that they wrote and had published in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, they argue that music need to be taken into consideration as a component of a lifestyle strategy to prevent brain damage.
Extensive research was conducted on more than 1,100 individuals aged 40 and older, with a mean age of 68.
In the course of a larger investigation into the aging process of the brain and the factors that contribute to the development of dementia, researchers from the University of Exeter examined the data they collected on their brain function.
They investigated the impacts of musical talent, as well as singing, reading music, listening to music, and playing an instrument.
The cognitive data of those participants in the study who had participated in music in some capacity throughout their lives was compared to the data of those who had never participated in music.
According to their findings, those who played musical instruments benefited the most from the exercise. This may be due to the fact that the activity requires “multiple cognitive demands” on performers.
It seemed that playing the piano or keyboard was very useful, while playing brass and woodwind instruments was also something that was advantageous.
Listening to music on its own did not seem to be beneficial to cognitive health overall
According to the researchers, the effect that is shown with singing might be partially attributed to the social factors that are known to be associated with being in a choir or group.
“Because we have such sensitive brain tests for this study, we are able to look at individual aspects of the brain function, such as short-term memory, long-term memory, and problem-solving and how engaging music effects that,” the study’s principal investigator Prof. Anne Corbett told the BBC.
What we currently know about the advantages of music is unquestionably validated and strengthened by this, and it does so on a far bigger scale.
“Specifically, playing an instrument has a particularly big effect, and people who continue to play into an older age saw an additional benefit,” said the researcher.
The message for public health
Individuals who read music on a daily basis were shown to have improved numerical recall in the research.
Professor Corbett said that “Our brain is a muscle like anything else and it needs to be exercised, and learning to read music is a bit like learning a new language, it’s challenging.”
Professor Corbett said that she felt, based on the information that is now available, that it would be “very beneficial” to take up a musical activity for the first time later in life. However, the researchers did not assess the possible advantages of doing so.
In spite of the fact that further study is required, Professor Corbett said that fostering musical education might be a “valuable” component of a public health message. He also mentioned that encouraging older persons to return to music in later life would be a “valuable” component.
The message is about how individuals may take preventative measures to lower their risk of cognitive decline or dementia, and it is about the importance of actively interacting with music as a means of doing so. It is possible that this might be a component of a much more comprehensive lifestyle approach to boosting brain health as you become older, as shown by this research.
On the other hand, she expressed that it would be a naive assumption to believe that learning to play a musical instrument will prevent the development of dementia. Nothing is as straightforward as that.”
The findings were described as “positive” by Dementia UK
“The ability to make or play music – whether by singing or playing an instrument – can continue even when people living with dementia have lost other abilities and means of communication,” Caroline Scates, the charity’s executive director.
“If you know someone living with dementia who enjoys, or has enjoyed, singing or playing an instrument, it can be beneficial to keep these instruments or sheet music to hand for them to play or read.”
At the age of eight, Stuart Douglas, who is now 78 years old, has been playing the accordion on a regular basis. He said that it caused his brain to remain “active” and that it also helped other people.
“We regularly play at memory cafes so have seen the effect that our music has on people with memory loss and, as older musicians ourselves, we have no doubt that continuing with music into older age has played an important role in keeping our brains healthy.”
In order to conduct this research, the National Institute for Health and Care Research provided financial assistance.