Music Engagement Linked to Enhanced Memory and Brain Health

Published February 2, 2024

A recent University of Exeter study suggests that lifelong musical engagement may be a key factor in maintaining memory and supporting overall brain health. According to their findings, individuals who play instruments, sing, read music, or partake in musical activities have shown notable improvements in cognitive abilities.

Lifelong Benefits of Music

The research team, led by Professor Anne Corbett, concluded that music participation is connected with cognitive benefits that could have significant implications for public health. The study, which involved analyzing data from over a thousand adults aged 40 and above, emphasized the absence of dementia diagnoses among these participants. By employing questionnaires and cognitive tests, the researchers uncovered a strong link between musical activities and higher cognitive skills, particularly among those who played musical instruments.

Instrument Playing and Cognitive Advantage

Data from the extensive PROTECT study, which tracked various aspects of brain health and dementia since 2015, formed the basis of this analysis. The findings highlighted that playing an instrument like the piano, especially over a long duration, was associated with substantial cognitive gains. Furthermore, engaging in singing was also beneficial, potentially due to the added social interaction that comes with choral activities.

Formal Learning vs. Listening to Music

One of the critical insights of the study was the importance of active learning and engagement in music rather than passive listening. The act of reading music and playing instruments, particularly keyboards, was found to be overall beneficial, with no observable effect from solely listening to music. This points to the significance of formal musical education and practice in bolstering brain health.

The Role of Musical Activities in Preventative Care

Commentary from Dr. Brandon Crawford, a functional neurologist not involved with the study, affirmed the profound impact of musical activities on the brain. He discussed how playing instruments and singing can support neuroplasticity and improve mood, making them both preventative and rehabilitative in terms of cognitive health. Crawford's clinical observations suggest that these activities can slow cognitive decline and, in certain instances, restore cognitive functions.

Making Music Part of Lifestyle Advice

Professor Corbett and her colleagues propose incorporating musical engagement into lifestyle advice comparable to healthy eating and regular exercise. This inclusion underscores the potential of musical activities to enhance brain resilience, much like learning a new language. Although the study acknowledges limitations in its data, the overarching theme is clear: engaging in music throughout life may sharpen and protect our brains into later years.

music, memory, dementia