And, it’s thanks to Nan that I can share two recent studies that reinforce the feeling many of us have that playing music — especially in groups — improves our lives as we get a little creaky in the joints.
The first study, published in the April 2011 journal Neuropsychology and reported in the Huffington Post, comes from researchers at the University of Kansas, who examined the mental abilities of people between the ages of 60 and 83 who play music. They found that people who had begun studying music early in life and had played for more than 10 years performed significantly better on both visual and verbal tests. While the authors conclude more study needs to be done, they theorize that learning to play music reorganizes pathways in the brain in ways that help ward off the effects of Alzheimer’s or other dementia. The finding would seem to be in keeping with the studies that have been done on children who study music, which have found an significant larger number of connections between the left and right hemispheres of the brain. Or, as the Huffington Post headline declares, “Musicians Are Probably Smarter Than the Rest of Us.”
Even more surprising to me was a study reported on NPR this month, coming out of Northwestern University. In the report on NPR, the researcher reported that musicians may have an edge warding off hearing loss. Because of their training, musicians were 40% more likely to discriminate words from background noise than non-musicians. As someone who has spent most of her career in environments with lots of potentially damaging background noise (one audiologist physically blanched when she saw my workspace next to those old 1960’s vintage AP teletype machines!), that study gives me great hope!