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Played music as a child? Enjoy a cognitive boost into old age

Played music as a child? Enjoy a cognitive boost into old age

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New research shows that playing scales as a child has benefits that persist decades later.

We take it as a given that as we grow older, our cognitive abilities will decline.

But that mental deterioration might be a little slower or a little less than it would have been for one group of people: those who played music as children.

A new study published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience shows that adults aged 59 to 80 who played a musical instrument for at least 10 years of their childhood performed better than their peers on tests of memory and cognitive ability.

Additionally, adults who played as children and then continued their music-making activities as adults had enhanced reasoning skills and their minds were more resistant to the effects of aging.

What the study didn't explore was whether, if you didn't play music as a child, picking up an instrument later in life had any effect on your cognitive ability.

However, the results do build on previous evidence for the benefits of learning an instrument. For instance, musicians have been found to be more skilled with foreign languages, and more adept at deciphering speech in noise.

Music-making is thought to benefit the brain because it requires simultaneous use of a number of brain systems.

As the researchers, Brenda Hanna-Pladdy at the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta and Byron Gajewski at the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan. told SmartMoney, the skills required to play music “are cognitively and motorically complex, tapping into many systems in parallel: auditory, sensorimotor, visuospatial, memory [and] processing speed.”

The researchers hypothesize that using all these skills simultaneously helps the brain in tasks requiring brain plasticity.

So, if you look back on the hours of piano practice you put in as a child not so fondly, take solace in the facts that you've benefitted mentally and will continue to reap rewards in old age.

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via: SmartMoney, U.S. News, Scientific American

photo: branestawm/Flickr

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Laura Shin

Features Editor

Laura Shin has been published in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Los Angeles Times, and is currently a contributor at Forbes. Previously, she worked at Newsweek, the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and LearnVest. She holds degrees from Stanford University and Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure