Dementia Risk Decreased With Music Lessons, Study Says

Line art drawing of the A note.

The chances of developing dementia are lower among people who take music lessons at a young age, according to a new study from researchers at Emory University.

Dr. Brenda Hanna-Pladdy, lead study researcher and clinical neuropsychologist at Emory University, and a group of colleagues analyzed data from 70 adults between the ages of 60 and 83, all of whom had a clean bill of health and had parallel levels of education and fitness. The researchers separated them into three groups depending on their musical ability and background. One group was for participants who had no musical background, one was for those who had two to nine years of musical training, and the third group was for participants who had 10 or more years.

The researchers discovered that, after undergoing a neuropsychological evaluation testing their verbal, memory, and attention functions, the participants in the group who had  played an instrument for 10 or more years scored the highest. The group with the least amount of experience in music scored the lowest.

"Musical activity throughout life may serve as a challenging cognitive exercise, making your brain fitter and more capable of accommodating the challenges of aging," Hanna-Pladdy wrote in a news statement. "Since studying an instrument requires years of practice and learning, it may create alternate connections in the brain that could compensate for cognitive declines as we get older."

None of the participants in the study were considered to be professional musicians, and the majority of those who had experience playing an instrument began playing around the age of 10. When asked whether or not parents should make their children play an instrument at a young age in hopes of maintaining or improving their cognitive functions later in life, Hanna-Pladdy told CBS News it couldn’t hurt. "We don't know what the answer is. But one of the nice things is that music lessons are not harmful, so why not?" The study was published in the journal of Neuropsychology.
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