Research suggests that promoting music performance and singing among older adults can benefit cognition and executive function.
Many studies have focused on the best foods for maintaining brain health, including oily fish, spinach, certain spices, and dark chocolate. But certain activities, too, are capable of improving cognitive performance.
Music is one such activity: not only can it be a source of pleasure, it may also be a key element in improving certain cognitive functions and maintaining a healthy brain as we age.
These are the findings of a new study by researchers at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, who looked at the impact of playing an instrument, as well as singing, on the brain health of people in their 40s and beyond.
“Our study has given us a unique opportunity to explore the relationship between cognitive performance and music in a large cohort of older adults,” explained Anne Corbett, who specialises in dementia research at the university.
“Overall, we think that being musical could be a way of harnessing the brain’s agility and resilience, known as cognitive reserve.”
This work is based on a vast online survey that has so far gathered data from over 25,000 people aged 40 and above, over the last decade. Over 1,000 participants were included in this research into the effects of music on brain health.
The scientists assessed the participants’ musical experience, whether playing an instrument or singing in a choir, as well as their results on cognitive tests.
Published in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, their findings point to a link between an improvement in memory and ability to solve complex tasks and playing a musical instrument, particularly the piano.
Music was found to be beneficial for improving executive function, and the researchers also report better brain health associated with singing, although they pointed out that “this may also be due to the social factors of being part of a choir or group”.
Interestingly, while it has already been demonstrated that playing a musical instrument as a child can help people age well, this research highlights that continuing this activity at a later age “provides even greater benefit”.
“Although more research is needed to investigate this relationship, our findings indicate that promoting musical education would be a valuable part of public health initiatives to promote a protective lifestyle for brain health, as would encouraging older adults to return to music in later life,” Corbett noted.
“There is considerable evidence for the benefit of music group activities for individuals with dementia, and this approach could be extended as part of a healthy ageing package for older adults to enable them to proactively reduce their risk and to promote brain health.”