ELY, ENGLAND – A new study from the University of Exeter has found that engaging with music throughout one’s life could lead to improved memory and cognitive function as people age. The research, published in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, analyzed data from over 1,100 participants aged 40 and older, who had not been diagnosed with dementia. They found that individuals who played musical instruments, sang, read music, or listened to music throughout their lives had better overall brain health than those who did not.
Lead researcher Anne Corbett, a professor of dementia research at the University of Exeter, emphasized that the study’s findings have significant implications for public health. She stressed the importance of incorporating music into general education and promoting engagement with music across the lifespan, or even restarting it in mid to late life.
The study revealed some interesting correlations between different musical activities and cognitive benefits. For instance, playing a musical instrument was associated with higher cognitive skills and enhanced memory. Additionally, singing was linked to better brain health, although researchers noted that this could also be due to social factors.
The researchers also found that participants who learned through written music had better numerical memory abilities, while playing the piano was associated with the greatest cognitive benefits. The study did not, however, find any effect from listening to music alone, highlighting the importance of formal learning when it comes to reaping the neurological benefits of music.
As a result of these findings, the researchers recommended promoting musical education and engagement from childhood onward as a means of protecting brain health. Dr. Brandon Crawford, a functional neurologist not involved in the study, confirmed the profound impact of engaging in musical activities on the brain. He emphasized that playing musical instruments and singing engage and strengthen various cognitive processes, including memory, attention, and executive functions.
Furthermore, the benefits of musical activities are both preventative and rehabilitative. For individuals without cognitive impairments, engaging in musical activities can help maintain and even improve cognitive functions as a protective measure against cognitive decline. On the other hand, those already experiencing symptoms of cognitive decline can slow the progression of their symptoms and, in some cases, restore cognitive functions through musical activities.
Crawford also highlighted the fact that while all musical activities offer benefits, some instruments might provide more significant cognitive stimulation due to the complexity of the skills they require. However, regardless of the musical activity, the key to reaping the neurological benefits lies in consistent engagement and enjoyment. With this in mind, Corbett emphasized that engaging with music throughout life could form part of overall lifestyle advice for keeping the brain sharp in later life.