Fascinating music

Playing music in childhood linked to a sharper mind later in life

According to a new paper from the University of Edinburgh, people with more experience playing a musical instrument showed greater improvement in lifespan on a test of cognitive ability than those with less or no experience.

The researchers found this to be the case even when taking into account their socioeconomic status, years of schooling, cognitive abilities during childhood, and health in old age.

But Professor Emeritus Ian Deary, former director of the university’s Center for Cognitive Aging and Cognitive Epidemiology, said: “We must emphasize that the association we found between instrument playing and cognitive enhancement during of life was weak, and that we cannot prove that the first caused the second.

Learning a Musical Instrument Can Improve Thinking Skills in Older Adults, According to New Research

“However, as we and others research the many small effects that may contribute to some people’s brains aging more healthily than others, these findings are worth following.”

Of the 366 study participants, 117 said they had played a musical instrument, mostly during childhood and adolescence.

The most commonly played instrument was the piano, but many other instruments were played, such as accordion, bagpipes, guitar, and violin.

The participants in the study were part of the Lothian Birth Cohort 1936 – a group of individuals from Edinburgh and Lothians, born in 1936, who took part in the Scottish Mental Survey of 1947.

Individuals were tested on a number of physical and mental functions as they aged, including taking the standardized cognitive ability test each took at age 11, which included questions requiring verbal reasoning , spatial awareness and numerical analysis.

Members of the cohort who had taken the test again at age 70 were asked about their lifetime musical experiences, by researchers concerned about whether musical experience is linked to healthy aging.

In the study, the team used statistical models to look for associations between a person’s experience of playing a musical instrument and changes in their thinking skills between the ages of 11 and 70.

The university said the results provided some of the first evidence that playing an instrument is associated with small, but detectable, cognitive benefits over the course of a lifetime.

Judith Okely, now a lecturer in psychology at Napier University, said: “These results add to the evidence that mentally stimulating activities, such as learning to play a musical instrument, may be associated with better abilities. reflection.”

And Katie Overy, Senior Lecturer at the University of Edinburgh’s Reid School of Music, said: “Music has so much to offer as a fun and social activity – it’s exciting that learning to play playing a musical instrument can also contribute to good cognitive health. aging.”

The study was funded by Age UK and the Economic and Social Research Council and has been published in the journal Psychological Science.

This follows controversy when Midlothian Council announced plans to withdraw funding for music lessons in its schools.

The local authority was criticized by all political parties, with parents and students expressing their disappointment.

The move came amid growing fears and heightened precautions at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.