Like learning to speak a foreign language, learning to play a musical instrument is something people widely assume you must have inculcated in you during your formative years. Research, however, shows that adults–and even older adults–can not only learn to play musical instruments well, but they can benefit from it tremendously in a variety of important ways.
Whether playing an instrument has always been on your to-do list or you’re just looking for something to do with all your newfound free time, there’s no better time than now to start learning to play an instrument.
Much research has proven that listening to an orchestral performance of well-known classical music compositions may give brain power a boost. Recent research out of Penn Medicine takes it a step further, finding that the act of playing such music in an orchestra provides an even greater brain boost.
Learning to play a musical instrument has been shown in multiple studies to help increase cognitive strength and reduce cognitive decline in older adults.
A 2015 study of older musicians with at least 10 years of musical training found that they performed better than older non-musicians in the areas of nonverbal memory, naming, and executive functioning, the higher level mental processes that allow you to process and retain information quickly.
These researchers concluded that “high musical activity throughout the lifespan” helped to preserve and potentially enhance mental functioning in older age.
Psychologists have identified the following main benefits of musical training to the brain:
Improved language functioning
In one University of Liverpool study, researchers discovered that musical training caused the blood flow to the brain’s left hemisphere to increase. In addition to being associated with processing music, the left hemisphere of the brain is also associated with language. That means increased blood flow to this area may help with language processing and help to prevent, slow down or delay loss of language skills as one ages.
Another study, this of adults 60-85 years of age with no prior musical experience, revealed improvements in verbal fluency following just a few months of taking piano lessons weekly. The study also revealed that music improves processing speed and generally stimulates the brain in older people. The researchers who conducted the study noted that older people have an easier time picking up theoretical musical concepts like scales, arpeggios, and intervals.
According to a 2014 study published in Frontiers in Neuroscience that examined the effects of musical training on auditory processing, moderate training in a musical instrument led older adults to respond to auditory neural stimuli faster than those with little or no musical instrument training.
It also made those older adults more resistant to latency delays in neural response caused by background noise. The researchers concluded that “musical training can, to some extent, counteract age-related auditory declines even when it has been discontinued for several decades.”
Research has found that playing a musical instrument can increase memory. It also makes the parts of the brain involved in storing information more active. The study even found that the results lasted well after music lessons ceased.
Along with mental skills, as a Telegraph article reports, playing a musical instrument fundamentally changes the power and shape of the brain, allowing for improved motor skills as well. These include skills like coordination, balance, dexterity, mobility, and endurance.
Other benefits of learning an instrument are less studied as of yet, though experts still cite them and anecdotal evidence of their validity abounds. These include:
Older age benefits musical training too
Not only does musical training benefit older adults, but their older age may benefit their effort to learn a new musical instrument too.
Despite challenges in memory, hearing, vision, coordination, and the anxiety from placing higher expectations on oneself, older people do have some advantages over younger ones in learning to play an instrument. Adults are more aware of their personal learning styles, allowing them to seek out more compatible learning methods from the get-go. They also tend to have greater motivation than younger people to practice and excel.
According to at least one neuroscientist, they may even benefit from some of the limitations older age has placed on their brains. Specifically, the reduced plasticity of the older person’s brain may help older adults to see the larger picture, control their impulses, and understand complex concepts and their relationship to one another. While response times may be slower in older adults, understanding and integration may be faster.
At Ingleside, you will find a wide range of neighbors pursuing their favorite pastimes and learning new skills. If you are ready to take advantage of the many benefits Ingleside has to offer contact us here.
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