An article in yesterday’s paper said we seniors must exercise to keep our hearts pumping. Today another article says we must play a musical instrument to enhance brain functioning. So which is it to be? The answer, I’m sure, is “both”. In other words keep everything going.  

The benefits of listening to music as we age are well-documented – music evokes emotion, helps us engage with our environment and gets us moving! Now it seems that making the music is even better than listening to it. Studies point to the major role music can play in cognitive enhancement and development. A 2003 study revealed that seniors ages 75 to 80 who frequently played a musical instrument were less likely to develop dementia that those who rarely played. In fact, musical practice was deemed more effective than other brain-training exercises such as reading, writing, or doing crossword puzzles. 

It’s never too late to get started playing music. In a 2007 study, a group of seniors between 60 and 85 with little prior musical training received six months of intensive piano lessons, while a control group of seniors received no training. The experimental group showed improvements on tests of working memory, perceptual speed and motor skills, while the control group did not show these improvements. 

Musical practice can also combat the deterioration of hearing as we age. A 2011 study from Northwestern University revealed that musicians between 45 and 65 years old were better equipped to hear speech in noisy environments, and also possessed better levels of auditory memory (the ability to recall what you heard) than their non-musical peers. 

Rather than chalking up memory and hearing loss to the inevitable ravages of aging, why not pick up an instrument and give your brain a workout? Okay, I will. As soon as I remember where I put my mouth organ, that is…