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Nov 06, 2013 09:47 AM EST

Playing an Instrument As a Child Keeps Brain Sharp in Later Life, Study

Music lessons during childhood improve hearing in old age.
(Photo : Flickr) Music lessons during childhood improve hearing in old age.

Engaging in extra-curricular activities during school years might prove beneficial even in later years.  While playing team sports improves attention skills and fights off obesity and egoism, music lessons maintain the sharpness of the brain and prevent cognitive decline in later life, according to a Northwestern University study.

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The researchers have found that learning piano or violin as a child influenced the way the brains respond to sound. Even if adults discontinued practicing musical instruments, their brains benefited from lessons learnt decades earlier. They displayed a faster brain response to speech, Telegraph reports.

"This study suggests the importance of music education for children today and for healthy ageing decades from now," the researchers said.

For the study, the researchers measured brain activity in 44 healthy adults while they listened to the sound 'da'. Participants, who spent more years learning a musical instrument in their youth, responded to the sound much faster. Those who spent at least four years learning musical instruments replied a thousandth of a second faster than those who never learned music.

All instruments, from the piano to accordion, showed similar results.

"Being a millisecond faster may not seem like much but the brain is very sensitive to timing and a millisecond compounded over millions of neurons can make a real difference in the lives of older adults. These findings confirm that the investments we make in our brains early in life continue to pay dividends years later," Michael Kilgard, a Texas University brain scientist, told Daily Mail UK.

Previous studies have proved that learning a musical instrument improves IQ, makes it easier to learn new languages and interpret the emotions of others.

 "One of the reasons we think that playing music can drive so many changes in the brain is the tight intersection between perpetual, cognition and emotional systems involved in music-making. If you have the emotional engagement that comes from playing an instrument, I' d hypothesise that the benefits would be greater," Prof Nina Kraus, who led the study, said.

The study has been published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

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