dementia
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Dementia is a debilitating brain condition that affects cognitive functions such as memory, thought processes, and social abilities. As a result, dementia has a negative impact on everyday activities. 

Different medical conditions can manifest dementia. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common, accounting for 60 to 80% of cases. [1] 

Other causes of dementia are linked to the following:

  • Aging – Men and women aged 65 and above are more likely to suffer from dementia. 
  • Genetics – Genes passed down from a parent may increase risk.
  • Gender and sex – Women over 80 years old have a higher risk of dementia than men of the same age.
  • Cognitive reserve – There’s a possible link between brain function and the ability to cope with the disease.
  • Ethnicity – Certain ethnic groups are more prone than others. 
  • Health conditions and diseases – Having cardiovascular disease may increase dementia risk.
  • Lifestyle factors – Smoking or excessive drinking may contribute to dementia.
  • Severe head trauma or injury – A traffic accident or fall may injure the brain. 
  • Pollution – Overexposure to air pollution can cause damage to blood vessels in the brain. [2]

Approximately 6 million people in the United States are affected by Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Due to an aging population, this number is predicted to rise to around 14 million by 2060. [3]

Can Dementia Be Prevented?

Certain factors associated with dementia are impossible to control or alter, such as genetics or age. However, reducing the risk of developing dementia is possible through lifestyle choices. 

Here are key factors that can help reduce the risk of developing the onset of dementia:

  • Exercising and staying active
  • Eating a balanced diet
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Cutting back on alcohol consumption
  • Giving up smoking   
  • Keeping blood pressure at optimum levels

By maintaining a healthy lifestyle, you can minimize the risk of cardiovascular diseases such as a heart attack or stroke. Cardiovascular diseases are a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia, which results from conditions that affect the blood vessels in the brain. [4]

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The Benefits of Music on Our Health and Well-Being 

One of the more recent revelations in the fight against dementia onset is the benefits of music, particularly learning how to play the piano. 

Former American politician and writer Robert G. Ingersoll once said, “Music expresses feeling and thought, without language; it was below and before speech, and it is above and beyond all words.” 

Now, scientists are discovering that music has many psychological and physical benefits. In the United Kingdom, music therapy has reduced the use of antipsychotic medication in 67% of patients living with dementia. 

The Power of Music Report took in the views of over 1,500 senior academics, politicians, researchers, practitioners, and those affected by dementia. [5]

The report also found music can improve other areas of health, including:

Psychological Conditions

In one trial, participants receiving music therapy showed a significant improvement in depression and anxiety symptoms and general functioning after three months compared to those receiving standard care. [6]

Music also eases stress in both physiological and psychological outcomes in patients undergoing surgeries and colonoscopies, children undergoing medical procedures, and patients with coronary heart disease. [7]

Neurodevelopment 

Research conducted at the University of British Columbia found music students perform better in school than those who did not study music. The study showed that students who continued to play a musical instrument into high school were around one academic year ahead of their non-musical peers. [8]

Social Networks

Researchers at the University of Oxford found that group singing can help forge friendships and act as an effective icebreaker in social interactions. [8]

While listening to music, the brain releases a feel-good neurotransmitter, dopamine. In one study, volunteers who listened to their favorite music produced up to 9% more dopamine. [9]

Pain & Anxiety

Listening to music during and after surgery may ease pain and reduce the need for painkilling medication. Music may also help lower blood pressure and balance the heart rate. [10]

Playing a musical instrument activates many areas of the brain simultaneously, predominantly the visual, auditory, and motor cortex.

Physical Conditions

Music therapy can have beneficial effects on patients suffering from symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Areas of improvement were gait, coordination, balance, and posture control. [11]

People suffering from cardiovascular disease who listen to music have reduced levels of stress and pain. [12]

Piano Lessons Could Delay Onset of Dementia

Scientists have found that taking up piano lessons at an older age may reduce or delay the onset of dementia.  

A study on healthy older adults with no formal musical training was conducted by researchers in Germany and Switzerland. They found that learning to play the piano could help safeguard memory function in healthy older adults. 

The review, which took place over six months, focused on the differences between simply listening to and learning about music in healthy older adults with no formal musical training. 

The study split 121 healthy adults aged between 62 and 78 into two groups. The first group took part in piano lessons with an hour of tuition each week and 30 minutes of daily practice.

The second group learned about instruments and composers and various types of music, from classical to pop. They did not take an active part in learning the piano. However, they were tasked with listening to music, reading texts, and preparing presentations. 

As the research concluded at the end of the six-month study period, the researchers found that the fornix region in the brain (associated with memory) degenerated at a slower rate in adults who took piano lessons compared to those who did not. 

These results suggest that practicing music on a regular basis could help aspects of memory in older adults and that learning to play the piano may delay the onset of dementia. [13]

To learn how leading a healthy lifestyle can help delay or counteract the onset of dementia and other health conditions, subscribe to our free weekly newsletter.   

Sources

  1. What is Dementia? Symptoms, Causes & Treatment | alz.org 
  2. Risk factors for dementia 
  3. The Truth About Aging and Dementia | CDC 
  4. Can dementia be prevented – NHS 
  5. Power of Music Report 
  6. Individual music therapy for depression: randomised controlled trial | The British Journal of Psychiatry | Cambridge Core 
  7. Effects of music interventions on stress-related outcomes: a systematic review and two meta-analyses 
  8. Choir singing improves health, happiness – and is the perfect icebreaker | University of Oxford 
  9. Anatomically distinct dopamine release during anticipation and experience of peak emotion to music | Nature Neuroscience 
  10. New study confirms listening to music during surgery reduces pain and anxiety 
  11. Music Therapy in Parkinson’s Disease 
  12. Music for stress and anxiety reduction in coronary heart disease patients 
  13. Six Months of Piano Training in Healthy Elderly Stabilizes White Matter Microstructure in the Fornix, Compared to an Active Control Group 

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