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A recent study suggests that playing a musical instrument may help maintain a youthful brain. The research in China examined the brains of non-musicians and musicians of different ages. Neuroimaging studies showed that musical proficiency could enhance listening abilities and stimulate specific brain regions, keeping the brain agile, youthful, and focused.

Musical training delays cognitive decline

Long-term musical training could delay or reverse the decline in auditory abilities and cognitive functions associated with ageing.

The study findings suggest that older musicians can match young non-musicians cognitive abilities in noisy environments when identifying audiovisual syllables. In addition, these results indicate that there are effective ways for older adults to age healthily and counteract natural cognitive declines.

According to Dr DU Yi, the study’s lead author, playing music helps older adults maintain youthful neural patterns and engage other compensatory brain areas, making them better listeners. In addition, the study provides empirical evidence that playing music keeps the brain youthful, sharp, and focused.

Researchers investigating brain activity in older musicians have identified two methods they employ to counteract the effects of ageing: functional compensation and functional preservation. Through their study, the researchers found that older musicians maintain the specific neural patterns associated with speech in sensorimotor areas, resembling those observed in young individuals without musical training.

Older musicians’ brains exhibit higher neural alignment

Additionally, the study revealed that the same brain region in older musicians exhibited higher neural alignment, indicating a closer match to the neural patterns of experts relative to much younger non-musicians. The researchers attributed this heightened alignment to the rigorous training experienced by the older musicians.

Interestingly, older individuals with brain function similar to young people’s performed better in processing audiovisual speech in noisy environments. Older musicians showed increased brain activation in regions that support multitasking and stronger inhibition in regions that help avoid interference. The greater deactivation of the default-mode network (DMN) in musicians was associated with improved performance in speech-in-noise tasks. Furthermore, greater frontoparietal activation and increased DMN inhibition led to similar neural patterns in sensorimotor regions among older adults.