Defy brain ageing and cognitive decline with the power of music

May 08, 2023
New research finds that music may help decrease cognitive decline in older adults. Source: Getty

As we age, the unfortunate truth is that our cognitive abilities inevitably diminish over time. The gradual reduction in brain plasticity and the decline in grey matter, which houses our neurons, are closely associated with this decline.

However, researchers from the University of Geneva (UNIGE), HES-SO Geneva, and EPFL may have just found a way to postpone cognitive decline among older adults in good health.

In the groundbreaking study, researchers explored the potential advantages of music practice and active listening in enhancing cognitive functions, specifically focusing on working memory, among retirees who had no prior experience with music.

The study involved a cohort of 132 healthy retirees aged 62 to 78, all of whom had never undergone music lessons for a duration exceeding six months. These participants were then enrolled in a six-month program comprising piano training and music awareness exercises.

The researchers segregated the participants into two distinct groups. The first group received piano lessons, while the second group participated in active listening sessions.

The active listening group concentrated on identifying instruments and analysing various musical elements from a broad spectrum of music genres. Both groups were also required to attend one-hour classes and complete half an hour of daily homework.

The researchers aimed to investigate which activity would deliver more substantial benefits in terms of cognitive enhancements, particularly working memory and brain plasticity.

The astonishing results showcased the profound impact of these musical activities on the participants’ brains.

Engaging in music practice and active listening stimulated brain plasticity, leading to a remarkable increase in the volume of grey matter. Additionally, the researchers observed encouraging improvements in working memory among the retirees.

‘‘After six months, we found common effects for both interventions. Neuroimaging revealed an increase in grey matter in four brain regions involved in high-level cognitive functioning in all participants, including cerebellum areas involved in working memory,” said the study’s last author Clara James.

“Their performance increased by six per cent and this result was directly correlated to the plasticity of the cerebellum.”

The findings of this study have unlocked a treasure trove of possibilities in the realm of healthy ageing and cognitive support for older adults.

By embracing the world of music practice and active listening, seniors now have a remarkable opportunity to safeguard and even enhance their cognitive functions, especially their working memory.

Moreover, this newfound avenue of exploration holds the potential to mitigate the decline of other vital cognitive processes, paving the way for a more fulfilling and vibrant ageing experience.

The power of music to invigorate the mind is now at the fingertips of older adults, providing them with a promising path towards maintaining their mental acuity and leading a life of cognitive vitality.

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

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