Playing music in childhood is linked to a sharper mind in old age

Young violinists play in an open concert with the orchestra. Photo: iStock
Young violinists play in an open concert with the orchestra. Photo: iStock

Researchers have found a link between learning a musical instrument in youth and improved thinking skills in old age.

People who play a musical instrument for long periods of time have a more developed cognitive capacity than those who do not. A study found that people with more experience show greater lifetime improvement on a test of cognitive ability, when compared to those with less or no experience.

No matter if the subject had a lower socio-economic status, more years of education, higher cognitive ability, or better health in older age, they were still at risk for depression.

As the researchers continue to explore what influences the aging of a person’s mind, these results are worth discussing. Playing an instrument is linked to small improvements in lifetime cognitive ability.

In a study, 117 out of 366 participants had experience playing a musical instrument.

Many different instruments were played, but the most commonly played instrument was the piano.

The Lothian Birth Cohort 1936 group took part in the Scottish Mental Survey of 1947.

Researchers studied the individual’s physical and mental functions as they grew old, and retook the standardized cognitive ability test.

Questions were asked of those who took the test aged 70 about their lifetime musical experience. Researchers attempted to find out if it was related to healthy aging.

The team used computer models to study associations between playing music and changes in a person’s thinking skills.

Playing an instrument can provide small but detectable cognitive benefits over a lifetime. The university found this through its research.

Learning musical instruments might help you improve your thinking skills in the future.

Katie Overy, a senior lecturer at the University of Edinburgh’s Reid School of Music said: “A study has found that music has so much to offer as a fun and social activity. Learning to play an instrument may also contribute to healthy cognitive ageing. In this study, groups of people who took up learning to play the violin had improved “executive function” – aspects such as planning, organisation and multitasking – when they were tested after 12 months.”

The study was funded by Age UK and the Economic and Social Research Council, and was published in the journal Psychological Science.

Share with friends