Normal aging is linked to progressive cognitive decline. Researchers have discovered that practicing as well as listening to music can change cognitive decline in otherwise healthy senior individuals by stimulating grey matter production.1✅ JOURNAL REFERENCE
More than 100 retired individuals who had not practiced music before were followed after training in piano and music awareness for 6 months.
The brain remodels itself throughout life. The connections and morphology of the brain change according to experiences and the environment, for example when learning new skills or overcoming the consequences of a stroke. This ‘‘brain plasticity’’ however declines as we age. The brain’s grey matter where the neurons are located is also lost. This is known as ‘‘brain atrophy’’.
Cognitive decline gradually takes place. Working memory is one of the cognitive functions that suffer the most and is at the center of numerous cognitive processes. Working memory is the process in which information is briefly retained and manipulated to be able to accomplish a goal, which includes translating a foreign language or remembering a phone number long enough to make a note of it.
The study found that music practice as well as active listening could help prevent the decline of working memory. Activities such as these promoted brain plasticity and they were linked to an increase in the volume of grey matter.
A positive effect on working memory was also measured. This study was carried out among 132 healthy retirees between the ages of 62 and 78. One of the participation requirements was that no music lessons had ever been taken for more than 6 months in their life.
The researchers wanted individuals whose brains didn’t yet present any traces of plasticity associated with musical learning. Even a small learning experience throughout a lifetime can result in imprints being left on the brain, subsequently biasing the results.
The individuals were randomly allocated to 2 groups, irrespective of their motivation to play a musical instrument. The 2nd group took part in active listening classes lasting an hour, focusing on the recognition of instruments and musical property analysis in a broad variety of musical styles. Individuals in both groups had to do homework for 30 minutes a day.
After 6 months, common effects were found for both playing an instrument and listening to music. Neuroimaging found a grey matter increase in 4 brain areas involved in a high level of cognitive functioning in all individuals, which included cerebellum areas associated with working memory. There was an increase of 6% in working memory performance which was directly linked to the cerebellum’s plasticity.
It was also observed that the sleep quality, the quantity of daily training, and the number of lessons followed for the intervention duration had a positive effect on the degree of performance improvement.
A difference between the 2 groups was however also found., The grey matter volume in the pianists stayed stable in the right side primary auditory cortex, an important sound processing area, while it decreased in the group taking part in active listening. A global brain atrophy pattern was also seen in all individuals. It can’t therefore be concluded that the brain can be rejuvenated with musical interventions, they only prevent aging in specific areas.