And the Beat Goes Onby Brenda Walker, MA | August 7, 2013
It has been said that music feeds the soul. It is also said that music is a universal language, understood by all. Music serves a number of purposes ranging from communication to simple enjoyment. Not only that, but research also suggests that music can play an important role in deterring and minimizing the affects of age-related cognitive dysfunctions.
Decades of research has implied a direct correlation between the development of neural pathways associated with not only hearing and feeling the sound and rhythm of music, but also the process of learning to play musical instruments.
Scientific research implies that brain development begins as early as the third week from conception and continues well into an adult’s twenties. The human brain is far more plastic during early development than in later life. So how might music relate to the development of the brain and cognitive neural responses of older adults?
Although there is little evidence to suggest that a fetus truly reacts to the sound of music, there appears to be a correlation between learning to play a musical instrument such as the piano and the development of spatial recognition perception in young children. The enhancement of neural connectivity associated with hand and eye coordination as a child learns to play an instrument suggests that musical training can have a long-term effect on the ability to process and understand the meaning and exchange of words.
Neurological deficiencies associated with the aging process describe a litany of disorders ranging from short-term memory loss to the slow decay of response time. Evidence suggests that the aging process reduces inhibitory neurotransmitter levels and dampens neural processing. Yet, further evidence reveals a link between previous musical training during childhood and a reduction in the degenerative neural processes associated with aging.
One particular study suggests that the nervous system is essentially changed in those individuals who had received early childhood training in music (for at least three years duration), and that these neural alterations continued into adulthood even if the training was discontinued (a minimum of seven years later).
Given this link, it could be that time reaction delays can be reversed through neural auditory training processes. A recent study theorized that cognitive training through auditory processes could re-establish — to some extent — age-related insufficiencies in temporal dispensation in the brain. And in turn, the associated plasticity of the brain could serve to encourage enhanced perception and cognitive abilities.
The study’s findings found that even short-term training induced neural plasticity in older adults in fundamental aspects of biological auditory processing. The results demonstrated that declines in neural temporal precision, normally associated with the aging processes found in older adults, were to some extent reversed. Improvements were also noted in short-term memory, processing speed, and sensitivity of speech.
Efforts such as these to understand the brain’s response to reduced inhibitory neurotransmitter levels and a reduction in neural processing as it relates to age-related dysfunction has led to research the possible role that music can and does play in slowing and possibly reducing these outcomes. It may be that music feeds a lot more than just the soul.
Anderson S, Parbery-Clark A, White-Schwoch T, & Kraus N (2012). Aging affects neural precision of speech encoding. The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience, 32 (41), 14156-64 PMID: 23055485
Anderson S, White-Schwoch T, Parbery-Clark A, & Kraus N (2013). Reversal of age-related neural timing delays with training. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 110 (11), 4357-62 PMID: 23401541
Pujol J, Vendrell P, Junqué C, Martí-Vilalta JL, & Capdevila A (1993). When does human brain development end? Evidence of corpus callosum growth up to adulthood. Annals of neurology, 34 (1), 71-5 PMID: 8517683
Skoe E, & Kraus N (2012). A little goes a long way: how the adult brain is shaped by musical training in childhood. The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience, 32 (34), 11507-10 PMID: 22915097
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