Parents should chill about the cost of their kids’ music lessons, at least according to a new study that suggests the training could pay off in later years.
A preliminary study finds that musical activity helps one maintain cognitive skills over the years.
Even if you do not still play an instrument, training in youth, when the brain is the most malleable, appears to have benefits. However, the length of the musical training does appear to make a difference.
Researchers recruited 70 healthy adults age 60 to 83 who were divided into groups based on their levels of musical experience. The musicians performed better on several cognitive tests than individuals who had never studied an instrument or learned how to read music.
“Musical activity throughout life may serve as a challenging cognitive exercise, making your brain fitter and more capable of accommodating the challenges of aging,” said lead researcher Brenda Hanna-Pladdy, Ph.D.
“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.”
According to experts, this is the first study to examine whether the cognitive benefits from learning and playing musical instruments during childhood can extend across a lifetime.
The three groups of study participants included individuals with no musical training; with one to nine years of musical study; or with at least 10 years of musical training. All of the participants had similar levels of education and fitness and didn’t show any evidence of Alzheimer’s disease.
Researchers discovered musicians who had studied the longest performed the best on the cognitive tests, followed by the low-level musicians and non-musicians, revealing a trend relating to years of musical practice.
Although the study did not indicate cause and effect, musical aptitude and training was associated with strong scores on cognitive tests related to visuospatial memory, naming objects and cognitive flexibility.
Researchers believe the results “suggest a strong predictive effect of high musical activity throughout the lifespan on preserved cognitive functioning in advanced age,” the study stated.
This suggests that the duration of musical study was more important than whether musicians continued playing at an advanced age, Hanna-Pladdy said.
“Based on previous research and our study results, we believe that both the years of musical participation and the age of acquisition are critical,” she said.
“There are crucial periods in brain plasticity that enhance learning, which may make it easier to learn a musical instrument before a certain age and thus may have a larger impact on brain development.”