Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Music slows down the ageing process

It is said that if you play a music instrument, it affects the way your brain develops. A recent study has shown musical experiences have a bigger impact than previously thought. It appears that being a musician affects degeneration of the nerve functions. Musical experiences seem to affect the nervous system, the wiring of your body that is ultimately controlled by the brain, in such a way that it ages slower. Because it basically controls all parts of the body, keeping it intact is of the utmost importance. Especially because damage to the nerves can seldom be repaired.

Scientists from Northwestern University compared functionality of the nervous system between musicians and non-musicians. They assessed participants' ability to hear and interpret speech, which is achieved by the brain receiving input from the ears and decoding what it means. The brain system required for hearing and interpreting sounds is known to serve as a proper benchmark for functionality of the nervous system.
The inner parts of the ear. Signals go to the brain via the auditory nerve.
To be able to interpret speech sounds, the nervous system uses something called neural timing. It is used to transform sensory input, such as sound, to signals that nerve cells understand and can work with. The brain's timing tells you something about the quality with which sensory input is processed. This is something that, as with many processes, declines with age.

After measuring how the brain responds to sounds of speech, the scientists found that musicians, even older ones, outperformed non-musicians. They showed with brain scans that musicians possess an advantage when it comes to neural timing, which means they interpret sensory information more easily. Because the timing system underlies how the brain processes the input it gets, it tells you something about how the nervous system is functioning. And that means musicians likely have a better functioning nervous system than non-musicians. 

It appears that the things we experience in life are able to modify our nervous system, which ultimately affects the way we function. Perhaps it is not that surprising, because music is a stimulus for the nervous system. While the body normally does not regrow neural cells, we already knew it was possible to train the nervous system in order to preserve its function. In addition to preventing age-related decline, the scientists claim that music therapy could possibly reduce nerve-related hearing loss, which is of course a big plus.

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