Playing an instrument linked to improved brain health in older adults

Playing an instrument linked to improved brain health in older adults

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Lifelong exposure to music is linked to improved brain health in old age, according to new research published by experts at the University of Exeter.

In PROTECT, an online study open to people aged 40 and over, scientists reviewed data from more than 1,000 adults over 40 to understand the impact of playing an instrument or singing in a choir on brain health. More than 25,000 people have signed up for the PROTECT study, which has been running for 10 years.

The research team reviewed the participants’ musical experiences and lifetime exposure to music, as well as the results of cognitive tests, to determine whether musicality helps keep the brain sharp later in life.

The paper “The relationship between playing an instrument and cognitive trajectories: an analysis from the UK aging cohort” is published in international journal of geriatric psychiatry.

Research findings suggest that playing an instrument, particularly the piano, is associated with improved memory and the ability to solve complex tasks, known as executive functioning. Continuing to play later in life will bring greater benefits. This study also suggests that singing is also linked to better brain health, although this may also be due to the social element of being in a choir or group.

Anne Corbett, Professor of Dementia Research at the University of Exeter, said: “Many studies have looked at the impact of music on brain health. Our PROTECT study gives us a unique opportunity to explore the relationship between cognitive performance and music. “A large number of seniors. Overall, we suggest that music may be a way to tap into brain agility and resilience (i.e., cognitive reserve). “

“While more research is needed to investigate this relationship, our findings suggest that promoting music education will be an important component of public health initiatives to promote brain-protective lifestyles, just as older adults are encouraged to Same goes for returning to music. There is substantial evidence that musical group activities are beneficial for people with dementia, and this approach could be expanded as part of healthy aging programs for older adults, allowing them to proactively reduce risk and promote brain health.”

Stuart Douglas is a 78 year old accordion player from Cornwall who has played the instrument his whole life and now plays with the Cober Valley Accordion Band and the Cornish branch of the Royal Scottish Country Dancing Society.

He said: “I learned to play the accordion as a child living in a mining village in Fife and continued with it throughout my career in the police force and beyond. I still play regularly and in bands. Keeping my schedule full, as we often perform in public. We often play at the Memory Café, so we see the impact our music has on people with memory loss, as older musicians, We have no doubt that continuing music into old age plays an important role in keeping our brains healthy.”

The PROTECT study is conducted entirely online and is open to new participants over the age of 40. To find out more visit:

More information:
The relationship between playing an instrument and cognitive trajectories: an analysis from older adults in the UK, international journal of geriatric psychiatry (2024).

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