According to a study published this month in the Journal of Neuroscience, older adults who took music lessons as children but haven’t actively played an instrument in decades have a faster brain response to a speech sound than individuals who never played an instrument, the study illustrates.
Aging results in pervasive declines in nervous system function. In the auditory system, these declines include neural timing delays in response to fast-changing speech elements; this causes older adults to experience difficulty understanding speech, especially in challenging listening environments. These age-related declines are not inevitable, however: older adults with a lifetime of music training do not exhibit neural timing delays.
Yet many people play an instrument for a few years without making a lifelong commitment. The researchers examined neural timing in a group of human older adults who had nominal amounts of music training early in life, but who had not played an instrument for decades and found that a moderate amount (4–14 years) of music training early in life is associated with faster neural timing in response to speech later in life, long after training stopped (>40 years).
Obviously, these researchers suggest that early music training sets the stage for subsequent interactions with sound. These experiences may interact over time to sustain sharpened neural processing in central auditory nuclei well into older age.
Does this count DJ’ing and beat making?
White-Schwoch, T., Woodruff Carr, K., Anderson, S., Strait, D.L., & Kraus, N. (2013). Older Adults Benefit from Music Training Early in Life: Biological Evidence for Long-Term Training-Driven Plasticity. Journal of Neuroscience, 33(45), 17667-17674. doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2560-13.2013.