Music offers big cognitive benefits for older adults

Credit: Unsplash+

A recent study led by Simon Fraser University (SFU) neuroscientist Sarah Faber, in collaboration with Health Research BC, reveals that listening to music can stimulate the brains of older adults, enhancing cognitive health, regardless of their familiarity with or enjoyment of the music.

Published in Network Neuroscience, the research highlights how music activates brain regions associated with reward, offering potential benefits even to those experiencing neurodegeneration, such as Alzheimer’s Disease.

Sarah Faber, also a postdoctoral researcher with SFU’s Institute for Neuroscience and Neurotechnology, explains, “Hearing music engages multiple networks across our brains.

It doesn’t just depend on the physical properties of sounds we hear but also on whether we’ve heard the song before, whether we like it, or if it brings back memories.”

The study examined two groups of participants—one younger cohort with an average age of 19 and an older group averaging 67 years.

These participants listened to a variety of 24 music samples that included their own selections, popular music known to be widely recognizable, and ambiguous tunes composed specifically for the study.

Faber’s findings suggest that while younger adults’ reward networks in the brain are mainly activated by music they recognize or enjoy, older adults’ reward networks are responsive to any music, even tunes that are new or not particularly enjoyed.

“We found that the brain structures responsible for processing reward are activated in older adults by all types of music, indicating that their auditory reward network can engage with a broad range of music,” says Faber.

This broad responsiveness to music among older adults could be particularly beneficial. Music has the power to evoke memories and emotions, helping older individuals stay connected to their past and maintain emotional and social connections with others.

Even unfamiliar music can trigger movement and help balance emotions by activating specific brain regions.

“The understanding of how music works in the brain is complex and changes with age,” Faber notes. “With training, the auditory reward network can become even more engaged across all types of music, which suggests potential for therapeutic applications.”

Beyond its implications for individual health, music also plays a significant role in social interactions. “Music can motivate us, help us relax during tough times, and form social bonds,” Faber adds. “Bonding over shared music, whether liked or disliked, is an effective way to connect with others.”

Looking ahead, Faber plans to extend her research to explore whether similar patterns of brain activity are observed in older adults with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

This could pave the way for developing music-based interventions to support cognitive function and enhance quality of life for those afflicted by these conditions.

If you care about brain health, please read studies about Vitamin B9 deficiency linked to higher dementia risk, and cranberries could help boost memory.

For more information about brain health, please see recent studies about heartburn drugs that could increase risk of dementia, and results showing this MIND diet may protect your cognitive function, prevent dementia.

The research findings can be found in Network Neuroscience.

Copyright © 2024 Knowridge Science Report. All rights reserved.