A truly mind-boggling study published on April 4 in the American Psychological Association's journal of Neuropsychology found that people who learned, played and steadily practiced their instrument for many years may have built some protection against cognitive losses in their later years than those with fewer, or no years of musical activity.
Researchers had 70 people ages 60 to 83 perform a variety of tests. Among them was measuring their visuospatial memory, testing their ability to name objects, and assessing their brain's ability to adapt to new information. They found that those who had engaged in musical activity for 10 years or longer scored substantially better than those with no musical activity in their past. And it further suggests that the longer people play instruments, the more benefits they may derive, and the more they will be able to stave off the onset of dementia. Most of the musicians in the study were pianists; woodwind musicians came in a close second. All were amateurs who had started playing when they were 10 years old. The study adjusted for physical fitness and education levels, each of which could contribute to protection against dementia. And, interestingly, the relationship between cognitive skills and years of musical activity was consistent whether the musicians were currently involved in making music or not. The study points out that the areas in which the long-time music players scored best were the same ones in which people tend to suffer a marked decline as they age and in which people with Alzheimer's dementia tend to have deficits. That musical activity could perhaps be utilized as a means of delaying cognitive losses due to Alzheimer's is remarkable!
Here's something else: Scientists have revealed that members of a British symphony orchestra have more little grey cells than ordinary people in a part of the brain known as Broca's area. Vanessa Sluming, of the University of Liverpool, examined the brains of musicians under the age of 50 and found that they had added to their grey matter. Then she looked at non-musicians under 50, and found an age-related decline.
"It is possible that maintaining musical skills throughout adulthood is associated with the retention of brain tissue, supporting a 'use it or lose it' interpretation," she said. "People who have a well-developed musical performance ability exhibit alterations in the structure of the motor cortex part of the brain."
So, as it happens, Bach, Beethoven and Mozart can actually help build AND sustain brain mass and keep you super-sharp and mentally with-it well into your later years.
For those parents out there that are super-concerned that their children maintain a perfect grade-point average, think again. Preventing your child from taking music lessons is only detrimental to their physical and emotional health. The benefits from learning and playing any instrument completely outweigh a perfect Bagrut score.
Don't take that away from your kid....