The Fascinating Way Listening To Music Can Actually Lower Your Dementia Risk
Remember how Baby Mozart was supposed to turn your infant into a genius? Turns out that listening to classical music does in fact boost the brain, and at any age.
According to a new study from the University of Helsinki, the dulcet tones of Brahms, Beethoven, and other classical musicians enhance genes involved in motor behavior, learning and memory, and the release of the happy brain chemical dopamine. "Sound is important in evolution to protect us, and music is also sound," explains lead researcher Irma Järvelä, MD, PhD, associate professor of medical molecular genetics at the University of Helsinki. Several of the genes that get dialed up in humans are also known to be responsible for song production in songbirds, a link that highlights the possible role of sound perception and production in survival across species.
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In the experiment, classical tunes also seemed to modify genes—in particular a gene known as SNCA—that control the death of neurons, seen with diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. "By affecting dopamine pathways, music silenced the genes that are risk factors for dementia," Järvelä says. Earlier research has shown music performance to cause structural and functional changes in the human brain and enhance cognition, but this was the first study to uncover the molecular mechanisms behind those effects.
Researchers, publishing in the journalScientific Reports, looked at brain scans of professional musicians before and after they played two hours of classical music, and compared them to scans of musicians who did a non-musical activity. Although this experiment looked at the cognitive changes in the classical musicians themselves, Järvelä believes that at least some of the changes—certainly to the SNCA gene—occur in listeners as well.
And as to whether other genres of music have brain-boosting power, Järvelä suspects that jazz, with its imagination, improvisation, and creativity, could also have an effect on gene expression. Possibly hip hop, too.
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