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Music is Tonic for Memory and Mental Abilities

Update Date: Jul 21, 2012 02:28 PM EDT

People trained in musical instrumentals have slower mental decline and are cognitively sharper than others.

A study conducted by Brenda Hanna-Pladdy, PhD, a clinical neuropsychologist in Emory University School of Medicine's Department of Neurology, claims that when compared to other activities, training in musical instrumentals could help people stay mentally fit for longer.

This is Pladdy's second study which offers more evidence on the findings of the original study published in 2011 that claimed that a minimum of 10 years experience of instrumental music helps musicians remain cognitively sharp in their advanced age. 

"The study confirms that musical activity preserves cognition as we age, by comparing variability in cognitive outcomes of older adults active in musical instrumental and other leisure activities," says Hanna-Pladdy in the news release. 

"A range of cognitive benefits, including memory, was sustained for musicians between the ages of 60-80 if they played for at least 10 years throughout their life, confirming that maintenance of advantages is not reliant on continued activity. In other words, you don't use it or lose it. Nonetheless, the study highlighted the critical importance of the timing of musical activity, which may optimize cognitive benefits." 

The effects of the training are particularly evident in the verbal and nonverbal functions, as well as memory of the old musicians. 

For the study, Pladdy evaluated the importance of the age at which musical engagement had started, in order to determine if there is a critical period of musical training in order to attain the best cognitive advantages when a person grows older. 

The findings of the study revealed that even though years of playing music was the best thing for the cognition, there existed a different sensitive period for different cognitive development across the lifespan of a person. 

If a person started practicing instrumental music before age 9, it could be predicted that he/she will have a better memory functions. However, longer periods of musical activity in meddle, or old age lead to improved non-verbal abilities such as visuospatial judgment.

Continued musical activity in advanced age also appeared to buffer lower educational levels, stated the news release.   

"This is an exciting finding in light of recent evidence suggesting that high educational levels are likely to yield cognitive reserve that may potentially delay the onset of Alzheimer's symptoms or cognitive decline," Hanna-Pladdy said. 

"This also highlights the promising role of musical activity as a form of cognitive enrichment across the lifespan, and it raises the question of whether musical training should eventually be considered an alternative form of educational training." 

Hanna-Pladdy suggests learning music at a tender age, perhaps before 9, and continuing it for as long as a person can.

The findings were published in the July issue of Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. 

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