Music Can Prevent Age-Related Cognitive Decline

According to researchers at the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at Northwestern University, Illinois, there is exciting new research that shows how being a lifelong practicing musician can make the brain healthier.  Nina Kraus, an auditory neuroscientist at the Northwestern University School of Communication, is the Principal Investigator for the evidence outlined below.

  • Musicians have stronger auditory cognitive skills across the lifespan. Strengthened auditory cognitive functions may contribute to stronger speech-sound processing. Kraus & Chandrasekaran (2010) Nature Reviews Neuroscience
  • The more you play, the more you profit across the lifespan!  There is a correlation showing that as the total number of years practiced increases, the musicians showed increased scores in the following areas:  attention, working memory,  hearing speech in noise, and neural speech-sound processing. Strait & Kraus (2013) Hearing Research
  • Music training affects sound processing across the lifespan.  (this study measures how reliably is the brain processing the sound) Skoe and Kraus (2013) Frontiers
  • Older adult musicians have superior hearing in noiseauditory cognitive skills -even musicians with hearing loss. This study compared musicians, non-musicans and musicians with hearing loss.                                                Parbery-Clark et al. (2011)  PLoS ONE
  • Musicians across the lifespan are better at hearing speech in noise! Strait et al (2012) Brain & Language
  • A lifetime of playing an instrument protects musicians from age-related neural declines.  In this study, musicians had a faster neural response than non-musicians.  Anderson et al. (2012) Journal of Neuroscience

Practicing piano increases brain size

from an article titled “Piano Boosts Brain Power”

Published April 12, 2013 | By Kristin

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Brain scans show that the brains of adult musicians are larger than those of non-musicians.

Research now shows that learning to play the piano actually causes parts of the brain to increase in size.

Kudos to all you parents who are helping your children learn to play! You’re making a real difference in your child’s development.

Read a Summary of the Research

Brain scans reveal clear differences: certain parts of the brain are larger in adult musicians as compared with nonmusicians. So are special brainy people genetically predisposed to music or is the process of learning an instrument responsible for the larger size? Researcher Gottfried Schlog and his colleagues developed experiments to investigate.

Schlog’s study demonstrates that learning to play an instrument does in fact cause structural changes in the brains of children, and that the amount of time spent practicing is important. Test children received lessons on piano or a string instrument for two years.

Brain scans performed at the beginning of the study revealed no significant differences between children in the test and control groups. Brain scans performed at the end of two years showed significantly increased size among children who were high practicers.

Parents Can Make a Difference

These results provide great news for parents! While nature helps determine your child’s potential, there are measures you can take to enrich your child’s developing mind, such as providing your child with piano instruction.

The other good news is that obtaining these positive effects is within your reach. High practicers were children who practiced 2-5 hours a week–this is doable!

Read the actual research publication: