HEALTHY LIVING
11/07/2013 08:51 am ET

Childhood Music Lessons Could Benefit Your Brain Later On

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If you took piano lessons as a child but never continued with them in adulthood, they could still provide brain benefits later in life, according to a new study.

Researchers from Northwestern University found that brain responses to speech are faster among older adults who took childhood music lessons -- even if they haven't touched an instrument in decades.

And the positive effects seemed to be stronger the longer a person took music lessons as a child, the researchers noted.

The study is published in the Journal of Neuroscience, and is based on testing of 44 adults ages 55 to 76. The study participants had the electrical activity of their auditory brainstem measured as they listened to the speech syllable "da."

The brain response to the sound was fastest among people who had had four to 14 years of musical training in childhood, with the response being a millisecond faster than those who had no musical training as children.

"Being a millisecond faster may not seem like much, but the brain is very sensitive to timing and a millisecond compounded over millions of neurons can make a real difference in the lives of older adults," Michael Kilgard, Ph.D., who studies the brain's sound-processing abilities at University of Texas at Dallas and who wasn't involved in this study, said in a statement. "These findings confirm that the investments that we make in our brains early in life continue to pay dividends years later."

And people could stand to benefit from starting music lessons at a very young age, according to another study in the Journal of Neuroscience. That research, conducted by scientists from Concordia University and the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital at McGill University, showed that musical training before age 7 is linked with more white matter in the corpus callosum part of the brain, as well as better performance on visual sensorimotor synchronization tasks compared with people who started music training after age 7.

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