The capacity to make music and understand it is an evolutionary development not shared by animals. Learning to play an instrument has been shown to involve the development of larger brain volume. A strong correlation has been found between high musical activity and preservation of non-verbal memory, naming, and executive function. One might therefore wonder whether musical activity might delay the development of dementia or slow its progression. Its effect on Alzheimer’s disease is particularly relevant as it accounts for 70% of all dementia patients.
In Alzheimer studies, patients have been shown to maintain the ability to play a music instrument and sing, while recognition of familiar tunes is frequently impaired. However Alzheimer patients score much higher on recognition than patients suffering from other types of dementia, for example semantic dementia and in some cases, recognition is not impaired at all. Playing a music instrument in later life has been shown to delay memory decline significantly, but only by 0.18 years. The effect of music-based interventions, on the other hand, has been shown to be clinically relevant, however the effects might be more due to physical exercise than music. Further, music therapy might be an aid in reducing anxiety, inducing postive mood, improving oxygen saturation rate, developing articulation and breath control, and reviving memories.