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According to legend, Nero fiddled while Rome burned. But despite his unpopularity with the Roman populace, he had a decent chance of retaining the flames of memory as he aged (if he hadn’t committed suicide at age 31) thanks to his musical predilection.
A study at Emory University shows that older individuals who spend a significant amount of time throughout life playing musical instruments have brains that don’t succumb as readily to the vagaries of aging.
“Musical activity throughout life may serve as a challenging cognitive exercise, making your brain fitter and more capable of accommodating the challenges of aging,” says lead researcher Brenda Hanna-Pladdy. “Since studying an instrument requires years of practice and learning, it may create alternate connections in the brain that could compensate for cognitive declines as we get older.”
Hanna-Pladdy’s research shows that high-level musicians who study the longest perform the best on the cognitive tests, followed by the low-level musicians and non-musicians, revealing a trend relating to years of musical practice. In her experiment, the high-level musicians had statistically significant higher scores than the non-musicians on cognitive tests relating to visual and spatial memory, naming objects and cognitive flexibility (the brain’s ability to adapt to new information).