Brain Health

Does Music Hold a Key To Stopping Alzheimer’s Disease?

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Does Music Hold a Key To Stopping Alzheimer’s Disease? about undefined

Multiple studies show singing in a choir or playing an instrument improves mood, increases mental ability, and boosts cognitive skills. We’ve told you about a number of these studies over the years.

Now, a new study shows why music is so important to your aging brain. And the experts conclude that if you played an instrument when you were young but let your skills lapse, now would be a great time to pick up your hobby again.

A new study finds that people who remain involved in music in one form or another throughout life have better brain health in older age. The research suggests that music can actually change the structure of your brain.

Music Expands Your Brain

You’ll hear people say that the world gets smaller as you get older. It’s debatable for many of us, but there’s one area of life where it’s true for everyone… and that’s your brain.

Your brain, especially your gray matter, shrinks with aging and illness. This shrinking has been linked to brain fog, poor cognitive function, and memory lapses. A healthy lifestyle can help combat this shrinking. And now, according to the latest research, so can music.

Multiple studies show that having a musical practice protects cognitive functions that usually decline with aging. One way practicing music successfully protects the brain is that it increases the volume of brain regions involved in executive function, memory, language, and emotion—that all important gray matter.

Another reason music can help your memory is cognitive reserve…

Playing Music Builds Cognitive Reserve

Any activity that’s mentally stimulating such as intellectually demanding occupations, adult education, leisure activities - even socializing, keeps the brain engaged and helps prevent cognitive decline. The reason is because stimulating your mind builds cognitive reserve. And one of the best ways to stimulate your mind is through engagement with music.

In fact, research shows that playing music improves multiple aspects of cognitive function throughout life, from childhood to older age. Playing a musical instrument has also been shown to reduce your overall risk of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and dementia.

Researchers at the University of Exeter’s PROTECT-UK (Platform for Research Online To invEstigate Cognition and geneTics in ageing) recently explored the brain benefits of playing a musical instrument further.

What they found reinforces the value of music.

Music Improves Executive Function

The PROTECT Study, which has been running for ten years, aims to understand how healthy brains age and why people develop dementia. Once a year, volunteers complete a set of questionnaires concerning lifestyle, everyday activities, medical history, and mental health. A series of online tests are taken to measure changes in brain function.

From the 21,000 volunteers aged 40 and over, researchers analyzed data on 1,570, of which 89 percent played a musical instrument. The researchers looked to see if playing an instrument or singing was linked to improved executive function-- executive function allows you to consciously control your thoughts, emotions, and actions, as well as solve complex tasks to achieve goals.

The team also examined music’s impact on working memory - your ability to hold information in mind for the purpose of completing a task.

The team theorized, based on previous research, that the participants who engaged with musical practice throughout their lives would have more favorable cognitive function compared to those who didn’t.

The overall result showed those who played a musical instrument demonstrated markedly better performance in working memory and executive function. And when they analyzed results by instrument played, they found…

Playing Piano and Keyboard Provides Superior Brain Benefits

Researchers discovered that playing the piano or keyboard and, to a lesser extent, brass instruments was strongly linked with better working memory. Meanwhile, woodwind players had better executive function. Continuing to play the instruments into later life provided even greater memory-boosting benefits.

This isn’t the first time that playing the piano or keyboard has come out on top with robust gains in memory.

Singing was also linked to better brain health, specifically in the area of improved verbal reasoning (an aspect of executive function). However, the researchers couldn’t be sure that this didn’t result from the social benefits of being part of a choir or group. More research is needed in this area.

The team also found significant associations between overall musical ability and working memory.

Reengage With Music

Anne Corbett, Professor of Dementia Research at the University of Exeter, explained, saying, “Our PROTECT study has given us a unique opportunity to explore the relationship between cognitive performance and music in a large cohort of older adults.

“Overall, we think that being musical could be a way of harnessing the brain’s agility and resilience, known as cognitive reserve.”

She added that older adults who were previously engaged with music should be encouraged to return to it in later life, and music group activities…could be…part of a healthy aging package for older adults to enable them to proactively reduce their risk and to promote brain health.”

Our Takeaway

If you play a musical instrument and enjoy it, this is wonderful news for you. If you’ve never played an instrument, it’s not too late. Research from Japan shows that learning a new skill such as playing an instrument can lower your risk of dementia.

And, if you’re not musical, don’t worry. You can still benefit from the memory-boosting qualities of music.

For example, just by listening to your favorite music you can improve your memory. A study at the University of Toronto demonstrates that listening to songs that have personal meaning can improve the memory and learning abilities of people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and Alzheimer’s disease. Another study at the University of Toronto backed up these findings.

So, figure out how to incorporate more of your favorite music into your life and reap the benefits of sharper thinking.

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