CHILDREN engage in all sorts of hobbies as they grow up, some of which last a lifetime and some of which get boring within a few weeks.
But if there’s one thing you can do now to improve your child’s brain health later in life, it’s to get them playing a musical instrument.
That’s according to a new study by the University of Edinburgh and Edinburgh Napier University.
Researchers found that people who had played a musical instrument most of their life performed slightly better on tests of their cognitive abilities in their 70s and early 80s than those who had not.
The association is evident even when considering other factors that may have influenced older people’s brain health, such as their intelligence or education.
Studies have already shown that children benefit from playing music at an early age and score better on cognitive tests.
The study participants were all born in 1936 in the Edinburgh and Lothian areas.
As they got older, they were tested on a range of physical and mental functions, including regular repetition of standardized cognitive performance tests.
Of the 420 participants in the latest study, 167 had some experience of playing a musical instrument, mostly during childhood or adolescence.
All participants showed a similar decline in test performance in their 70s.
However, there was a difference: those who had experience playing an instrument performed better on tests of processing speed and visuo-spatial reasoning.
Visual-spatial thinking is the ability to mentally visualize the location of objects and their relationship to one another.
It plays a key role in everyday tasks, such as walking around a room carrying furniture or driving a car.
The researchers said the results don’t prove musical training improves cognitive skills because unexplored factors may have contributed to the results.
However, they said the results clearly showed that playing a musical instrument could help you stay sharper later in life.
dr Judith Okely of Edinburgh Napier University said: “We view these results as an exciting starting point for further investigations into how musical experiences throughout the life course might contribute to healthy aging.”
The study, funded by Age UK and the Economic and Social Research Council, is published in the journal Psychology and Aging.
This comes after the University of Edinburgh released a study last year that suggested a link between playing an instrument and better cognitive skills as we age.
Further studies are currently being planned – and the experts want to hear from people with a wide range of musical experiences, including informal music listening, singing, dancing, performing and/or teaching.
Anyone over the age of 18 can voluntarily join a new database to contribute to future studies.
Researchers are particularly interested in hearing from people who are retired.
Professor Katie Overy from the University of Edinburgh said: “Music can be such a joyful and enriching experience at any age, regardless of skill level or musical genre.”
“We are interested in further exploring the musical experience, including listening to music and singing, and we look forward to developing the new volunteer database.”