Our Aging Population, Dementia and Piano Lessons

In a new study from Germany and Switzerland, scientists have compared the brain scans of people over 60 who took piano lessons to those who did not. The results are quite amazing. The ‘white matter’ in one’s brain is where cognitive decline happens, resulting in dementia. Brains scans proved that those taking piano lessons for six months showed no decline in ‘white matter’, while those who did not play the piano showed definite declines. While this may come as no surprise to those of us in the music business, this study focused on people over 60 who started to play piano, as opposed to previous studies that focused on people who had been playing for years. Read the article here.

Piano lessons at 60 could stave off dementia by strengthening brain tissue that degrades when memory problems set in, scientists say

  • Researchers found benefits of piano practice for people aged sixty and above 
  • Participants tinkled for 30 minutes a day and took an hour-long class weekly
  • Brains scans after tickling the ivories revealed their brain decline slowed down 
  • Taking up music later in life has benefits – but only if students fully commit to it
  • Britain faces a dementia epidemic because of its rapidly ageing population  

“Millions of us love listening to all kinds of music. But for those in their sixties and seventies, taking the next step of learning to play could help keep dementia at bay. Scientists have found that it strengthened white matter – brain tissue which degrades when memory and concentration problems set in. The benefits came with six months of weekly lessons learning to tinkle the ivories, they said. Britain faces a dementia epidemic because of an ageing population with the number affected forecast to rise from 800,000 to 1.2million in England by 2040. Numerous studies have found playing a musical instrument can protect against the incurable condition. But most have looked at professionals or those who have been playing since childhood. For the latest research, scientists analyzed if learning the piano later in life also helps the brain. They recruited 121 men and women in their sixties and seventies who had never played a musical instrument. Each had a brain scan before and after the experiment to measure changes in an area called the fornix. This is made of white matter which plays an important role in cognition and memory but naturally declines with age. Half the recruits were assigned to weekly one-hour piano lessons for six months, with instructions to practise at home for at least half-an-hour every day. The rest attended weekly presentations on different types of music and were encouraged to listen to a range of genres. This group was barred from playing, singing or even clapping in the research by Hanover Medical School, Germany, and the University of Geneva, Switzerland. Scans revealed the piano students lost little or none of the density of their white matter, suggesting no decline in brain function. But those who did not take lessons had a significant decline in white matter density, increasing their chances of developing dementia and memory problems. A report in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience said taking up music later in life could work wonders but only if students were fully committed. These changes in the brain do appear to be related to piano training intensity,’ wrote the researchers”

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