Playing a musical instrument 'could cut dementia risk'

Playing a musical instrument could help to reduce the risk of dementia, according to a new study.

Researchers who studied a group of twins found that those who were able to make music had a one-third lower risk of developing the condition, The Telegraph reports.

According to those conducting the study, little research has been done on the effects of playing an instrument as a leisure activity on dementia. One of the obstacles to progress in this area was the different genetic backgrounds of participants.

As identical twins share 100 per cent of their genetic makeup and non-identical twins 50 per cent, the researchers were able to more accurately investigate the links between music and dementia.

Only one of the twins in the study had dementia, meaning it was possible to isolate the risk factors peculiar to the twin with the condition and the protective factors unique to the healthy twin.

After taking into account sex, education, and physical activity, twins who played a musical instrument in older adulthood were found to be 36 per cent less likely to develop dementia and cognitive impairment.

Writing in the International Journal of Alzheimer's disease, the University of California researchers said: "Despite sharing numerous genetic propensities and environmental exposures during formative developmental years, dissimilarities in music engagement were associated with differences in dementia occurrence within twin pairs, and the association is not explained by education or physical activity."

While it is not clear how music has this beneficial effect, it is thought to enhance the so-called cognitive reserve - the brain's ability to be resilient in the face of attack.

Music is increasingly being used to treat those with dementia. Singing, in particular, has been found to have a significant impact in alleviating symptoms. It is thought that music's ability to evoke emotion can help to bring back memories.

In addition, the ability to listen to and appreciate music is one of the last abilities remaining to those with Alzheimer's.

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