Playing instruments combats cognitive decline as we age

… and your choice of instrument affects the brain in different ways.
This article examined the impact of musical engagement on cognitive function in ageing populations, starting with 1107 people over 40. They looked at executive function and memory.
For context, the authors cited other articles to illustrate the neural benefits of playing music, especially if the person learnt to play an instrument as a child. They explain that people who continue to play music after age 65 retain more executive function, language, attention, cognition, and processing speeds. They also cite articles showing reduced instances of dementia and cognitive impairment in musicians as they age.
The results of this study confirmed that learning a musical instrument and continuing to play it in older age is beneficial to executive function and working memory. 78% of the participants in this study had received formal musical training. It found that keyboard and brass instruments were more beneficial to working memory, and woodwind instruments maintained executive function. It adds that music’s inherent sociability (playing with others) is another indicator of cognitive health.
“The multipe cognitive demands of playing a musical instrument (musical notation, listening and understanding tonality, physical coordination of playing)”
– Vetere, G., et al. (2024)
How is this relevant to music therapy? We are always looking at how musical engagement affects your health, function, and wellbeing, and we regularly incorporate elements of learning a musical instrument to aide your musical participation. In our music therapy sessions, you always have the option to choose how you engage – and that includes what instruments you want to learn, and what songs you want to play on them. In my neurologic training, I saw scans of healthy brains compared to those with dementia – the biggest difference was a deterioration of white matter. And guess what creates more white matter? Learning a new skill!
If you cannot access music therapy, there are still many other ways to get involved with music, such as taking instrumental lessons, joining a social group such as a concert band, or forming your own band with like-minded people.
This article is publically available, and highly recommended at this link:
Vetere, G., Williams, G., Ballard, C., Creese, B., Hampshire, A., Palmer, A., Pickering, E., Richards, M., Brooker, H., & Corbett, A. (2024). The relationship between playing musical instruments and cognitive trajectories: Analysis from a UK ageing cohort. International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 39(2), e6061-.

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