Playing a musical instrument could help boost memory, even if you start in adulthood

·2-min read
A new American study shows the cognitive benefits of playing an instrument, even later in life.

There is no right or wrong age to take up music, it seems. In fact, American researchers say that learning to play an instrument in adulthood could be beneficial when we grow older. It could even lead to a new calling, later in life...

Not everyone learns to play the piano at age three like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart or Martha Argerich. Some take up instruments later in life, and that's no bad thing. Researchers at Stony Brook University in the US looked at whether playing a musical instrument during adolescence and adulthood had an effect on memory problems.

They drew on a survey answered by more than 10,000 high school graduates in the state of Wisconsin in 1957. The same students were polled again in 1964, 1975, 1993, 2004 and 2011. Jamie L. Romeiser and colleagues looked specifically at data collected in 2004 and 2011, when several study participants were asked to complete memory tests. During one of them, they were asked to remember a list of words and repeat it 12 minutes later, after being distracted by one of the scientists.

Participants in the study had previously provided information about their relationship with music, specifically whether they had learned to play an instrument in high school or later in life. The majority (55%) had not made music since their teenage years. Only 8% had continued to play an instrument throughout their lives.

The Stony Brook researchers found that the musicians in the Wisconsin longitudinal study did better on memory tests than those who did not practice the art. While all participants showed signs of cognitive decline in their sixties and beyond, the scores of the instrument players were higher than those of people who had never learned to play an instrument.

Even more surprisingly, the benefits of playing a musical instrument were not limited to those who started playing in high school. People who started playing musical instruments as adults also had better episodic memory. It's enough to make you want to dig out that old guitar that's been sitting at the back of the closet since you were a teenager.

Caroline Drzewinski

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