In addition to its effects on mood, music is a powerful cognitive and cerebral stimulant. First among children, who are encouraged to play an instrument from an early age. For good reason, musical practice has positive effects on the development and preservation of their cognitive abilities throughout their lives.
Researchers from the Scottish universities of Edinburgh and Napier of Edinburgh have looked into the benefits of playing a musical instrument from childhood. They found that the musicians performed better on cognitive assessment tests than those who had never played an instrument in their lifetime. This implies the existence of a link between musical practice in childhood and the improvement of cognitive abilities at a later age.
To reach this conclusion, the research team asked 420 octogenarians, from the Lothian Birth Cohort 1936, to take tests assessing their processing speed, visuospatial reasoning as well as their communication skills and verbal memory every three years, between the ages of 70 and 82. Of these 420 participants, 167 played a musical instrument during their childhood or adolescence and 39 were still doing so at the age of 82.
An ally against cognitive aging
This is how scientists discovered the existence of a weak but significant association between instrumental practice and improved cognitive abilities in old age. And this, even taking into consideration other factors such as the intelligence of the volunteers at the age of 11, their socio-economic status, their level of education or physical activity as adults.
According to Dr Judith Okely, co-author of the study and professor at Edinburgh Napier University, these findings show how learning music sculpts the brain in the long term. “We view these results as an interesting starting point for further research into how musical experience across the lifespan may contribute to healthy aging.”she said in a statement.
This research work, whose conclusions were published in the journal Psychology and Aging, follows a previous study on the virtues of instrumental practice at any age of life. However, it does not prove with certainty that playing an instrument systematically improves the cognitive skills of the musician.
Despite everything, playing a musical instrument remains a stimulating activity for the brain. It could make it possible to fight against the effects of cognitive aging, even in adults who start it late. The most recent discoveries show that the fourth art stimulates almost all forms of memory, including in people with Alzheimer’s disease. All the more reason to put a musical instrument in everyone’s hands for the next school year.