Devoting oneself to music as the years go by appears to promote better brain health, according to a study published in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, conducted by scientists from the University of Exeter. The team, led by Anne Corbett, examined data collected from PROTECT, a survey involving over 25,000 people aged 40 and above, followed for ten years.
Researchers assessed information related to a subgroup of about a thousand individuals to observe the impact that playing a musical instrument can have on the brain and cognitive abilities. According to the findings, individuals who had played for most of their lives were associated with improvements in memory and executive functions, such as complex problem-solving.
The piano seemed to be the most effective means of achieving significant cognitive results. Continuing to play and sing even in old age appeared to be correlated with considerable benefits, along with better brain health. Experts hypothesize that some of these positive effects may stem from the social benefits of belonging to a group, such as a choir or orchestra.
“In the scientific literature,” notes Corbett, “there is ample evidence of the effect of music on the brain. PROTECT has provided us with a unique opportunity to explore the relationship between cognitive performance and music in a large cohort of older adults. Overall, we believe that the ability to play an instrument can tap into cognitive reserve.”
“Further investigations will be needed to explore the curious relationship between music and brain capabilities,” the authors specify, “but our work suggests that promoting music education could be a good strategy for initiatives aimed at enhancing public health by improving brain health and the well-being of the elderly.”
Stuart Douglas, a 78-year-old accordionist from Cornwall, part of the Cober Valley Accordion Band and the Cornish Division of the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society, shares his experience. “I learned to play the accordion as a boy,” he says, “and it has been with me throughout my life, even while I was working in the police and now in retirement. My bands and I perform regularly. Playing helps us with memory and spirit. We are convinced that music at our venerable age is essential for keeping the brain healthy.”