Published on: January 11, 2015
by Roger Dobson for The Telegraph:
Playing a musical instrument may lower the risk of dementia, according to research.
A study based on twins found that those who were able to make music had a one-third lower risk of developing the condition.
Researchers said little analysis had been carried out of the effects of playing an instrument as a leisure activity on dementia, with one of the problems having been the differences in the genetic backgrounds of participants.
By studying 157 sets of twins, the researchers were able to more accurately investigate the links between music and dementia, because identical twins share 100 per cent of their genetic makeup and dizygotic, or non-identical, twins, 50 per cent on average.
The study involved twins where only one had dementia, which enabled the researchers to track down risk factors unique to the twin with the disease, as well as protective factors exclusive to the healthy twin.
After taking into account sex, education, and physical activity, twins who played a musical instrument in older adulthood were 36 per cent less likely to develop dementia and cognitive impairment.
“Despite sharing numerous genetic propensities and environmental exposures during formative developmental years, dissimilarities in music engagement were associated with differences in dementia occurrence within twin pairs, and the association is not explained by education or physical activity,” said the researchers from the University of California, writing in the International Journal of Alzheimer’s disease.
Just how playing an instrument could have such an effect is unclear, but one theory is that it enhances so-called cognitive reserve, the brain’s ability to be resilient in the face of attack.
Some research has shown that greater education may delay the onset of dementia. Music processing involves a large number of brain regions.
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