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  • Zuzia Boguslawska

Playing a musical instrument can protect against dementia?

Apps like MindMate help you to make multi-part lifestyle changes that improve cognitive scores and, by inference, curtail the future risk of Alzheimer’s disease. If you want to promote overall brain health, even more, there is a supplementary way to keep the mind sharp as you get older. Studies are showing that learning to play an instrument can bring significant improvements to your brain.

Playing an instrument is a complex activity, which involves integrating information from the senses of vision, hearing, and touch, as well as fine movements, and learning to do so can induce long-lasting changes in the brain. The brains of adult professional musicians have a great volume of both gray and white matter. These particular brain changes are associated with a better ability to change or adapt in response to experience, environment, and behavior. Additionally, during musical training you need to learn how to play on time or sometimes improvise and that appears to strengthen your working memory- a set of processes that allow us to store and manipulate temporary information. Hence, playing an instrument might be associated with a lower dementia risk. But are the brain alterations and memory function only visible in life-long experienced musicians? Not really!

What’s interesting, our response to music is maintained, even when we can't preserve memories, like in dementia. According to Ronald Devere, a director of the Alzheimer’s Disease and Memory Disorders Center in Austin, musical emotion and memory can survive long after other forms of memory and cognitive function have disappeared. In those living with dementia, music can improve mood and behavior, like agitation, even after hours and days after it stops. Individuals with Alzheimer’s disease of any stage are able to recognize familiar melodies and lyrics due to bonds formed early in life. No formal knowledge of music has to be present for them to enjoy it at the deepest level. However, it is never too late to start! A study at the University of South Florida found that those ages 60-85 showed more robust gains in memory, verbal fluency, and other cognitive functions after receiving piano lessons for 6 months.

More studies and qualitative data are needed, but a little messing about the piano won’t harm you!

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