Although the media continuously publicizes new research around Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, there is still a large amount of uncertainty around the disease, how it progresses and ways in which individuals can delay its symptoms. Scientists have long preached that staying active, having hobbies, and creating strong social ties promotes brain health and may help stave off cognitive decline. While there is currently no known cure or proven way to prevent Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, recent research suggests that music may help delay symptoms of dementia and help the brain resist damage over time.
A study conducted by Brenda Hanna-Pladdy, assistant professor of neurology, radiology and imaging science at Emory, revealed that those who played instruments before the age of nine had better verbal and working memory functions than individuals who started playing music later and individuals who had never picked up an instrument.
Furthermore, in an earlier study, Hanna-Pladdy also found that musicians who had been playing music for a minimum of ten years—even if they stopped playing altogether after this time frame—performed better at memory processing and flexibility activities than those who had never played an instrument.
Though there are currently no studies suggesting that teaching older adults to play an instrument would have the same effect as those individuals who started playing at a young age, the implications are significant given that researchers already know that music has a positive effect on people with dementia.
If you are currently caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia, listening to music that he or she enjoys is one way you can stimulate cognitive function. Studies have shown that music exposure reduces behavior issues and calms those with dementia. Whether the two of you listen to your loved one’s favorite radio show or music album, or even take it a step further and try and learn to play a new instrument, each activity is a fun way to engage with your loved one and it can only yield positive results and memories!