Unlocking the power of music: Can it help delay cognitive decline in our brain?

Globally, the population is aging faster than ever. 

Aging can result in various types of cognitive decline, posing a severe burden on families and society. In order to promote healthy aging, it is crucial to develop effective interventions.

A promising approach is musical training, which is accessible to most people. Additionally, musical training can benefit the brain, especially for older adults, in addition to providing a musically rewarding and aesthetic experience.

A study led by Dr Du Yi from the Institute of Psychology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and published in Science Advances, found that long-term musical training could mitigate and even counteract the age-related decline of audiovisual speech-in-noise perception in older listeners, via functional preservation of youth-like activity patterns in sensorimotor areas, supplemented by available compensation in frontoparietal and default mode network (DMN) regions [1].

This neuroimaging study included older musicians, non-musicians, and young non-musicians. Researchers found that older musicians were better at identifying audiovisual syllables under noisy conditions than older non-musicians.

To counteract aging, old musicians adopt two mechanisms: functional preservation and functional compensation. In particular, older musicians kept their neural representations of speech in sensorimotor areas like young non-musicians, but older non-musicians lost them.

In the same region, older musicians exhibited higher neural alignment (higher pattern similarity) than older non-musicians, and this capacity was associated with their training intensity. Significantly, youth-like brain function predicts better audiovisual speech-in-noise perception performance in older adults.

Additionally, the researchers found that older musicians showed more activation in frontoparietal regions that support multiple tasks across domains and less inhibition in DMN (default mode network) regions that are irrelevant to the task.

The more significant the deactivation of DMN, the better the performance of audiovisual speech in noise. Additionally, these two mechanisms work together, as greater frontoparietal activation and greater DMN inhibition contribute to more similar patterns in sensorimotor regions as we age. Basically, functional compensation kept you functional.

By preserving youthful neural patterns and recruiting additional compensatory brain regions, playing music improves older adults’ listening skills. According to Dr Du playing music keeps your brain sharp, young and focused.

Lifelong musical training leads to “successful aging” in speech processing by retaining youthful brain characteristics and improving compensatory brain scaffolding [2]. Sensorimotor preservation and compensatory DMN deactivation also offer avenues for more targeted training regimens to preserve speech functions in older individuals [3].

[1] https://english.cas.cn/newsroom/research_news/life/202304/t20230411_329175.shtml
[2] https://neurosciencenews.com/brain-aging-musical-expertise-23013/
[3] https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/sciadv.adg7056

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