Many seniors gain a great sense of enjoyment and accomplishment from playing an instrument, but the hobby may be more beneficial than they thought. Musicians between the ages of 60 and 80 may have a lower risk of memory decline and cognitive aging than individuals who never practiced or learned music, according to a new study from Emory University School of Medicine’s Department of Neurology.
That study confirms findings from 2011 that showed musicians with at least 10 years of instrumental musical training had sharp cognitive abilities well into their senior years. Brenda Hanna-Pladdy, the clinical neuropsychologist who published the study, said “a range of cognitive benefits” were maintained by seniors if they played for at least 10 years throughout their lives. This particular finding indicates that the advantages are not lost if the musical skills are not continuously used throughout life.
That said, optimal results occurred if the senior started playing before age 9 – this was associated with enhanced verbal and memory functions. However, it’s never too late to start playing an instrument again. The study found that sustained musical activity over age 60 was associated with other, nonverbal cognitive benefits.
Even if the senior is not playing the music him or herself, music can be beneficial in Alzheimer’s care, according to AARP. Music has been found to lower stress levels of individuals with the disease and help them bond with their family members.