Playing music as a child helps you stay sharp in old age
Endless hours of piano practice can be the bane of a child’s life - but there might be an added benefit of sticking with it.
A study has found that learning a musical instrument as a child could keep you sharp into old age.
Pensioners who had piano, flute, clarinet or other lessons as a youngster, did better on intelligence tests than others.
And the longer they had played the instrument for, the better they did.
Skills that tend to deteriorate rapidly in conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease were particularly likely to be preserved, the American Psychological Association journal Neuropsychology reports.
University of Kansas researcher Brenda Hanna-Pladdy said: ‘Musical activity throughout life may serve as a challenging cognitive exercise, making your brain fitter and more capable of accommodating the challenges of ageing.
‘Since studying an instrument requires years of practice and learning, it may create alternate connections in the brain that could compensate for cognitive declines as we get older.’
While much research has been done into how children benefit music lessons, this is the first study to examine whether those effects can extend across a lifetime.
A total of 70 healthy adults between 60 and 83 years old were split up into groups depending on their musical experience.
The musicians did better than those with no musical background in various cognitive tests.
All of the musicians were amateurs who had started playing an instrument at around 10 years old.
More than half played the piano, with others playing the flute, clarinet, strings, percussion or brass.
Those who had played music for longer were better at the tests, illustrating a clear link to the length of experience as well.
However, high-level musicians who still played at an advanced age produced similar results to the most skilled players who had given up.
This indicated the duration of the musical study was more important than whether they continued playing in their older years.
Dr Hanna-Pladdy said: ‘Based on previous research and our study results, we believe that both the years of musical participation and the age of acquisition are critical.
‘There are crucial periods in brain plasticity (versatility) that enhance learning, which may make it easier to learn a musical instrument before a certain age and thus may have a larger impact on brain development.’
By Fiona Macrae
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