Playing Music may Help Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease

Research has indicated that learning a musical instrument may help prevent Alzheimer’s disease.  Music and cognition are inexorably linked; we know that perceiving and creating music require complex neural (brain) activity.  Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by a loss of neurons and the connections between them.  Interestingly, a clinical study showed that older adults who were more active, including those who played an instrument, were less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than less active older adults.  The cognition involved in learning to play an instrument fosters the growth and strength of the brain’s neural network, and as such can act as a deterrent for Alzheimer’s disease as well as other forms of dementia.

Other research with Alzheimer’s patients further elucidates the relationship between cognition and music.  The most recognizable trait of Alzheimer’s disease is memory loss.  However, studies have shown that the ability to play an instrument may be spared by Alzheimer’s disease; some musicians with the disorder retain the ability to play their instrument, even if they are unable to learn new songs or identify familiar melodies.  Further, it has been suggested that Alzheimer’s disease exists to a lesser degree among musicians (specifically, orchestral musicians) than among non-musicians.

One study showed that incorporating music into a memory task helped Alzheimer’s patients to remember, while it had no discernable effect on the memory of healthy participants.  Similar correlations between music and increased cognitive functioning have been observed in stroke victims who suffer from aphasia (those who have trouble understanding or producing language).  The connections between music and cognition run deep and we still have a lot to learn.  But one thing we are pretty certain of is that the experience of learning how to play an instrument acts as a buffer against cognitive decline—particularly Alzheimer’s disease.  So, if you are a musician—great!  If you are not a musician, you should give it a try!  And if you’re a parent in the Chicago area, encourage your child or children to learn an instrument: it’s fun and great for the mind.  Contact Flatts & Sharpe today to inquire about Chicago music lessons!


ScienceDirect: The musical brain, chapter 23 exerpt

ScienceDirect: Music as a memory enhancer in patients with Alzheimer’s disease

PubMed: Musical experience and dementia. Hypothesis.

PubMed: Memory for music in Alzheimer’s disease: unforgettable?

American Health Assistance Foundation website

~ by flattsandsharpe on March 9, 2012.

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