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Stay mentally fit: Making music trains the brain well into old age

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Stay mentally fit: Making music trains the brain well into old age

Health Stay mentally fit

Making music trains the brain well into old age

Status: 05.02.2024 | Reading time: 3 minutes

Playing the piano is fun – and has benefits for brain health

Quelle: Getty Images

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Music keeps you fit – but only if you make it yourself: Seniors who play instruments or sing have a more efficient brain. British researchers have now proven this. One instrument in particular enhances the effect. But singing can also improve certain skills.

People who engage in music throughout their lives are likely to have more efficient brains than others as they age. This is suggested by a British study, the results of which were published in the journal “Geriatric Psychiatry”. However, according to the researchers, simply listening to music is not enough to keep memory and cognitive functions fit. To do this, you have to sing yourself – or even better – play an instrument.

For their study, the research group led by scientists from the University of Exeter used data from more than 1,000 adults over the age of 40 who took part in the British “Protect” study. “Protect” has been running for ten years and is intended to explore how brains age and why people develop dementia.

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The now selected study participants, whose average age was 68 years, were asked about their musical experiences and their lifelong exposure to music. Using cognitive tests, the scientists investigated whether musicality helps to have a productive brain even in old age. To do this, they compared the cognitive data of study participants who had played music in some form during their lives with those who did not play music.

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Research on music

Overall, 89 percent of the test subjects stated that they had played an instrument, and 44 percent were still doing so at the time of the study. 71 percent had sung in a choir or band.

In fact, the tests showed that playing an instrument – particularly a piano or keyboard – was linked to improvements in memory and the ability to solve complex tasks. Making music with woodwind or brass instruments also had a positive effect.

The researchers praise the “diverse cognitive demands of playing a musical instrument”

Quelle: picture alliance / Westend61

The benefit was greater if gaming continued into old age. As the authors themselves write, although the reported effect sizes are smaller compared to the effect of medication, they are still statistically significant and “significant when viewed from a population health perspective.”

The study also found evidence that singing is also associated with improved brain health, especially with regard to language skills. The researchers suspect that the benefit could be due, among other things, to social aspects such as belonging to a choir or group.

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Overall, the brain health benefits of playing an instrument were greater than singing. This difference, the study states, could be due to “the diverse cognitive demands of playing a musical instrument (notation, hearing and understanding tonality, physical coordination of playing), in contrast to singing.”

Singing in a group has been linked to “improvement in verbal memory and fluency” – but there is less literature on singing and cognition in old age than on playing a musical instrument, so more research is needed in this area .

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Broader studies are also necessary, for example because the group of test subjects examined here consisted of significantly more women (83 percent) than men (17 percent). In addition, the study was based on the participants’ self-reports – future work should analyze the musicality of test subjects in more detail. “In addition, examining the long-term effects of playing a musical instrument, singing, listening to music and musical ability would be of interest.”

Making music for cognitive reserve

In a statement from her university, study leader and dementia researcher Anne Corbett summarizes: “Overall, we believe that music could be a way to use the agility and resilience of the brain, the so-called cognitive reserve.” However, according to the study, this is necessary , making music yourself: Simply listening to music doesn’t seem to have any impact on cognitive health.

However, according to scientists, regularly reading music – in the form of sheet music – improves numerical memory to a small extent. Corbett also reports that there is considerable evidence of the benefits of music group activities for people with dementia.

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