(HealthDay News) – Musical activity predicts variation in cognitive aging, according to a study published online July 19 in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

Brenda Hanna-Pladdy, PhD, from Emory University in Atlanta, and Byron Gajewski, PhD, from the University of Kansas in Kansas City, examined cognition in 70 age- and education-matched musicians (for >10 years) and non-musicians (all aged 59–80 years). Participants were evaluated on neuropsychological tests and general lifestyle activities.

The researchers found that, compared with non-musicians, musicians scored higher on tests of phonemic fluency, verbal working memory, verbal immediate recall, visuospatial judgment, and motor dexterity. There was no difference seen in other general leisure activities. Based on partition analyses, in musicians, education best predicted visuospatial functions, followed by recent musical engagement, which counteracted low education. Enhanced verbal working memory was predicted by early age of musical acquisition (<9 years). General lifestyle activities did not predict variability in verbal and visuospatial domains in aging, but recent and past musical activity did.

“A range of cognitive benefits, including memory, was sustained for musicians between the ages of 60–80 if they played for at least 10 years throughout their life, confirming that maintenance of advantages is not reliant on continued activity. In other words, you don’t use it or lose it,” Hanna-Pladdy said in a statement. “Nonetheless, the study highlighted the critical importance of the timing of musical activity, which may optimize cognitive benefits.”

Full Text