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Early Music Lessons Enhance Elderly Brain

Update Date: Nov 05, 2013 05:03 PM EST

Taking music lessons in early age may help keep the brain sharp, according to a new study.

New research revealed that older adults who attended music lessons as children have faster brain responses to speech sounds than individuals who never played an instrument.

The latest findings suggest early musical training has a lasting, positive effect on how the brain processes sound.

Researchers explain that older people often experience changes in the brain that compromise hearing. For example, the brains of older adults show a slower response to fast-changing sounds, which is important for interpreting speech.

Past research reveals that such age-related declines are preventable. Researchers found that lifelong musical training may offset these and other cognitive declines.

However, the latest study also links limited musical training early in life to changes in the way the brain responds to sound decades later.

Lead researcher Nina Kraus and colleagues found that the more years participants spent playing instruments as youth, the faster their brains responded to speech sounds.

"This study suggests the importance of music education for children today and for healthy aging decades from now," Kraus said in a news release.

"The fact that musical training in childhood affected the timing of the response to speech in older adults in our study is especially telling because neural timing is the first to go in the aging adult," she added.

The late study involved 44 participants ages 55 to 76. Participants were asked to listen to a synthesized speech syllable "da" while researchers measured electrical activity in the auditory brainstem.

Despite none of the participants having played an instrument in nearly four decades, the study revealed that participants who completed four to 14 years of music training early in life had the fastest response to the speech sound.

"Being a millisecond faster may not seem like much, but the brain is very sensitive to timing and a millisecond compounded over millions of neurons can make a real difference in the lives of older adults," Michael Kilgard of the University of Texas at Dallas and who was not involved in this study said in a statement. "These findings confirm that the investments that we make in our brains early in life continue to pay dividends years later," he added.

The findings are published in the Journal of Neuroscience

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