Long­time play­ing of a mu­si­cal in­stru­ment may help keep your mind sharp

Long­time play­ing of a mu­si­cal in­stru­ment may help keep your mind sharp as old age sets in, a study has found.

Re­search­ers Bren­da Hanna-Pladdy and Ali­cia Mac­Kay at the Un­ivers­ity of Kan­sas Med­i­cal Cen­ter sur­veyed 70 healthy peo­ple aged 60 to 83, giv­ing them a series of neu­ropsy­cho­logical tests.

Those with at least 10 years of mu­si­cal ex­pe­ri­ence had “bet­ter per­for­mance in non­ver­bal mem­o­ry… and ex­ec­u­tive pro­cess­es” com­pared to non-mu­si­cians, the in­ves­ti­ga­tors wrote. Their find­ings, which they de­scribe as pre­lim­i­nary, are pub­lished in the April 4 ad­vance on­line is­sue of the re­search jour­nal Neu­ro­psy­chol­ogy.

The re­sults, they added, “sug­gest a strong pre­dic­tive ef­fect of high mu­si­cal ac­ti­vity through­out the life span on pre­served cog­ni­tive func­tion­ing in ad­vanced age.”

If the find­ings are con­firmed, music-making may join phys­ical fitness, strong edu­cation and pro­fes­sional car­eers as fac­tors found to con­tri­bute to high­er ment­al test scores in old age.

It has al­ready been known that “in­ten­sive re­pet­i­tive mu­si­cal prac­tice can lead to bi­lat­er­al cor­ti­cal re­or­gan­iz­a­tion,” or wide­spread changes in brain wir­ing, Hanna-Pladdy and Mac­Kay wrote. But it has been un­clear, they added, wheth­er mu­si­cal abil­i­ties “trans­fer to nonmu­si­cal cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties” through­out life. 

The peo­ple in the sur­vey group were matched on age, educa­t­ion, his­to­ry of phys­i­cal ex­er­cise; mu­si­cians were matched on age of in­stru­mental ac­qui­si­tion and years of for­mal mu­si­cal train­ing, the sci­en­tists not­ed.

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