Early Learning Boosts Brain Resilience

Did you take music lessons in your youth? Can you speak a second language?

New research sourced by Dr Weil in his brilliant daily newsletter suggests that being bilingual can stave off dementia for more than four years, and that childhood music lessons pay off much later in life by speeding brain responses to speech sounds.

Baby Boy Child Childhood Computer Concept

Scottish and Indian researchers reviewed the case histories of 684 seniors with dementia. Of this group, 391 spoke more than one language. The investigators found that that being bilingual delayed the progression of dementia, even in study subjects who were illiterate, a finding that demonstrated for the first time that education levels alone don’t explain the delay.

Learning With Development Looking People Child

However, the study found no additional advantage to knowing three or more languages. Researchers at Northwestern University in Illinois found that taking music lessons for four to 14 years early in life paid off later by making possible recognition of a speech sound a millisecond faster than seniors who had no musical training. A millisecond may not seem like a big deal, but it is significant in terms of brain function.

For the Northwestern study 44 healthy adults, ages 55-76, listened to a synthesized speech syllable (“da”) while researchers clocked electrical activity in the auditory brain stem, the brain region that processes sound. Childhood music lessons were related to faster brain responses, even in study participants who hadn’t played music in nearly 40 years, the researchers found.

Dr Weil’s take is that mental exercise is vital to keeping sharp as we age. In general, the more education you have, the less likely you are to develop Alzheimer’s disease or to experience age-related cognitive decline; if you do experience them, they will appear later in life than in less educated people.

Piano Boy Playing Learning Piano Lesson

Both of these new studies demonstrate again that using the brain is protective against age-related mental decline. The more learning you have had, the more connections you have in your brain, even if that learning took place during music lessons early in life or if you managed to master two languages, even without formal education or the ability to read.

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