Practicing and Listening to Music Can Slow Cognitive Decline in Healthy Seniors by Producing More Gray Matter

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Listening to music or playing an instrument can delay cognitive decline as we age—by producing gray matter in the brain—a new study shows.

The researchers followed over 100 retired people who had never practiced music before. They were enrolled in piano and music awareness training for six months, which when finished resulted in an increase in working memory performance by 6% and a total reduction in gray matter loss in the piano playing group.

Taken altogether, the scientists believe that while musical interventions cannot rejuvenate the brain, they can prevent aging in specific regions, specifically in people with no musical background who start playing in their senior years.

As the brain ages, it loses a trait that everybody who wants to understand a little about their own neurology should remember—neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is the measurement of the brain’s ability to flex and work on different tasks by enhancing neuronal connections and creating new ones to suit new tasks.

Key among neuroplasticity is working memory, which describes the kind of mental effort needed to remember a whole phone number long enough to be able to reach the pen and paper to write it down, or translate a sentence from a foreign language.

A team from the University of Geneva wanted to see how much the musical domain could prevent this loss of working memory associated with age-related cognitive decline.

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