Music to slow cognitive decline

Retirees without knowledge of music

Researchers from UNIGE, the Health University Geneva (HES-SO Geneva) and the Federal Polytechnic School in Lausanne studied the effect of music on the brain and its cognitive abilities. results ? Playing a musical instrument or listening to music will improve brain plasticity and increase gray matter volume. This work also showed that music will enhance memory.

Of the 132 participants, all retirees between the ages of 62 and 78, none had taken music lessons for more than six months in their lives. “We wanted people whose brains had not yet shown any traces of plasticity related to musical learning. In fact, even a brief learning experience during one’s life can leave imprints on the brain, which could bias our results,” explains Damien Marie, study director and co-investigator of the study. College of Medicine and Center for Interfaculty Affective Sciences (CISA) at UNIGE.

More gray matter

Participants were divided into two groups, with some participants taking weekly piano lessons and others taking active music listening lessons while working on instrument recognition and business analysis. Everyone had to work at home according to his system, half an hour a day.

After six months, we saw combined effects in both areas. Neuroimaging revealed, in all participants, an increase in gray matter in four regions of the brain involved in higher-order cognitive functioning, particularly in the cerebellum regions mobilized for memory. Their performance increased by 6% and this result was directly related to the plasticity of the cerebellum,” notes Clara James, co-author of the study, instructor in the Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences at UNIGE and professor at HES-SO Geneva.

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“Gray matter volume remained stable in the pianists’ right primary auditory cortex—an area specialized for sound processing—while it decreased in the active listening group,” the press release says.

Other information: The overall process of atrophy persisted in all participants. Damien Marie concludes that “musical interventions cannot therefore rejuvenate the brain but only slow down the aging of some of its regions”. However, according to the scientific team, the study of music, which is more accessible, should be considered by public authorities as a tool for healthy aging.

next step ? Carry out a study on subjects affected by mild neurocognitive decline, identified by specialists between normal aging and dementia.

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