Taking up a certain hobby late in life could help prevent dementia

Early symptoms of dementia explained in NHS video

The impact of dementia is devastating for both those living with the syndrome and their loved ones.

Depending on the type of dementia someone has it can lead to memory problems, personality changes and difficulty with daily activities due to the progressive decline of brain function.

Although there is no known cure yet for dementia there are ways to lower your risk.

And new research suggests that taking up a particular hobby could be one way to do so.

A study, published in Neuroimage: Reports journal, revealed that listening to music or playing an instrument could prevent cognitive decline in old age.

As part of the study, 132 healthy retirees aged between 62 and 78, who had not previously taken a music lesson for more than six months, were recruited.

They were then enrolled in piano and music awareness training for six months.

Participants were divided into two random groups – one learned the piano and the other studied music for an hour a day with half an hour practise or homework.

As we age, brain plasticity lessens and is known as brain atrophy when we lose grey matter where neurons are located. This can impair our working memory making sufferers appear forgetful.

In the case of this experiment conducted by the University of Geneva, the activities promoted brain plasticity and were associated with grey matter volume increase and positive measures on working memory.

First study author Doctor Damien Marie said: ‘‘We wanted people whose brains did not yet show any traces of plasticity linked to musical learning.

“Indeed, even a brief learning experience in the course of one’s life can leave imprints on the brain, which would have biased our results.”

Professor Clara James added: ‘‘After six months, we found common effects for both interventions.

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“Neuroimaging revealed an increase in grey matter in four brain regions involved in high-level cognitive functioning in all participants, including cerebellum areas involved in working memory.

“Their performance increased by six percent and this result was directly correlated to the plasticity of the cerebellum.”

In those learning piano, the volume of grey matter remained stable in the right primary auditory cortex, a key region for sound processing, whereas it decreased in the active listening group.

Dr Marie added: “In addition, a global brain pattern of atrophy was present in all participants.

“Therefore, we cannot conclude that musical interventions rejuvenate the brain. They only prevent ageing in specific regions.”

The authors of the study believe that music should become a major policy priority for healthy ageing.

They plan to evaluate the effect of music on people with mild cognitive impairment, an intermediate stage between normal ageing and dementia.

Common symptoms of dementia include:

  • Memory loss
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Finding it hard to carry out familiar daily tasks, such as getting confused over the correct Change when shopping
  • Struggling to follow a conversation or find the right word
  • Being confused about time and place
  • Mood changes.

If you believe you or a loved one has dementia you should speak to a GP.

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