Learning to play a musical instrument is something that anyone at any age should consider if they have the time. There are a wide variety of instruments and opportunities to learn them available. We often focus these to young children, but this is not really a great practice. In fact, it makes even more sense in older age in many ways because of the cognitive benefits. It is somewhat ironic that as a society we focus on this aspect of development in children (and hence try to expose them to playing music in school and outside it) but generally overlook it later in life despite the importance of having a sharp mind throughout the course of life.
Playing music can help limit decline in cognitive function, something that is of particular concern in the elderly population (particularly with the increasing rates of Alzheimer’s disease and similar ailments). Even minor amounts of training have been shown to have an impact due to the positive role learning and playing instruments like the piano have on our synaptic plasticity. Our brains really are things that get better the more we use them and the complexity of learning to play an instrument can be a great training tool to keep our brains sharp. The dexterity, audible perception, and reading skills that are combined when playing music combine to make a great workout for the brain. In doing so, it keeps our plasticity higher than it might otherwise be.
When it comes to an instrument like the piano, with so many keys and the necessary hand movements to play it, a player’s dexterity can also improve. Because of this additional challenge for the hands and moving certain fingers which we may not otherwise move in that way outside of playing the instrument, piano has shown to help stroke patients retain finger movements. This is a great example of the benefit in motor skills that instruments afford us.
In addition to the impact on cognitive thinking abilities and motor skills, playing an instrument can also create challenges and in turn a sense of achievement for those who try. It can be a great social activity and help ward off depression and other mental illness. It may also be calming and help reduce stress as many other leisurely activities also do. Music is generally a very emotional experience for many people and it can help keep older people engaged and entertained.
It is never too late to pick up an instrument and try to learn playing it. There are many websites and videos online which can teach you to play whatever instrument you prefer (everything from piano to the clarinet to drums and beyond) at zero cost. It may have synergistic benefits for your health and wellness in the form of improvement cognitively, mentally, and in your motor skills. If you or someone you know has the time to pick up a new hobby, consider an instrument as it can be an additional challenge and quite an addition to one’s life.
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