Music Lessons Increase Grey Matter in Elders, New Research Shows

Recent research published in Neuroimage: Reports Journal studied the effects of music lessons on the brains of elders, with an average age of 69, indicating that individuals who took piano or music theory lessons had an increase in gre

y matter in several brain regions.

The study shows that studying music can slow down age-related cognitive decline without medication, as age-related cognitive function decline affects millions of people globally, making cognitive decline a crucial public health concern.

While pharmacological treatments for cognitive decline have been developed, these treatments often have side effects and may not be beneficial for all people.

For example, exercise and cognitive training are two of the non-pharmacological therapies that have been found to improve cognitive performance in older people.

In this context, older individuals’ cognitive function may benefit from music therapy, although the underlying brain mechanisms remain unclear.

The study highlighted that improvements in cognitive performance may result from music interventions that impact the cerebellum and auditory cortex, two brain areas involved in music processing.

Researchers looked into the effects of musical treatments on auditory working memory and cerebellar grey matter in healthy older individuals, with MRI scans and cognitive assessments conducted at baseline and after six months.

In this regard, the participants were randomly assigned to either a music intervention group or a control group, as the music intervention group received weekly piano lessons and was asked to practice at least five times a week while the control group took a music culture course, with a one-hour meeting weekly.

Participants also underwent MRI scans in addition to cognitive tests of verbal and tonal working memory and provided information about their sleep patterns, musical preferences, and demographics.

The findings indicated that throughout the six-month observation period, the cerebellar grey matter level increased in both elders who received piano lessons and those who took music theory classes, with piano students witnessing a dramatic enhancement in their tonal working memory.

The study also discovered a favorable correlation between the increase in tonal working memory and the number of music lessons taken, the time spent on assignments, and the amount of sleep at baseline.

The study provides proof that music therapy can enhance auditory working memory and cerebellar grey matter volume in healthy older persons.

In addition, the results imply that several variables can impact the beneficial effects of music interventions on cognitive performance,  shedding light on music therapy as a non-pharmacological treatment for older persons’ cognitive loss.

Based on these results, researchers argue that “education for seniors should become a major policy priority in the framework of healthy aging, to promote brain plasticity, cognitive reserve, mental health, independence, and well-being through stimulating, cross-modal group interventions such as musical interventions.”

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