Musical Activity During Life Is Associated With Multi-Domain Cognitive and Brain Benefits in Older Adults

Research output: Contribution to journalResearch articleContributedpeer-review


  • German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE)
  • Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin
  • University of Göttingen
  • Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich
  • Otto von Guericke University Magdeburg
  • University of Bonn
  • University of Rostock
  • University of Tübingen
  • University of Cologne
  • Technische Universität Darmstadt
  • Imperial College London
  • Technical University of Munich
  • University of Aveiro


Regular musical activity as a complex multimodal lifestyle activity is proposed to be protective against age-related cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease. This cross-sectional study investigated the association and interplay between musical instrument playing during life, multi-domain cognitive abilities and brain morphology in older adults (OA) from the DZNE-Longitudinal Cognitive Impairment and Dementia Study (DELCODE) study. Participants reporting having played a musical instrument across three life periods (n = 70) were compared to controls without a history of musical instrument playing (n = 70), well-matched for reserve proxies of education, intelligence, socioeconomic status and physical activity. Participants with musical activity outperformed controls in global cognition, working memory, executive functions, language, and visuospatial abilities, with no effects seen for learning and memory. The musically active group had greater gray matter volume in the somatosensory area, but did not differ from controls in higher-order frontal, temporal, or hippocampal volumes. However, the association between gray matter volume in distributed frontal-to-temporal regions and cognitive abilities was enhanced in participants with musical activity compared to controls. We show that playing a musical instrument during life relates to better late-life cognitive abilities and greater brain capacities in OA. Musical activity may serve as a multimodal enrichment strategy that could help preserve cognitive and brain health in late life. Longitudinal and interventional studies are needed to support this notion.


Original languageEnglish
Article number945709
Number of pages16
JournalFrontiers in psychology
Publication statusPublished - 25 Aug 2022

External IDs

WOS 000854994600001
ORCID /0000-0002-5304-4061/work/142238786


Research priority areas of TU Dresden

Sustainable Development Goals

ASJC Scopus subject areas


  • brain aging, brain plasticity, cognitive reserve, instrument playing, prevention, resilience, MRI, ALZHEIMERS-DISEASE, VOLUME, FUNCTIONAL CONNECTIVITY, STYLE, ATLAS, RESERVE, WHITE-MATTER HYPERINTENSITIES, WORKING-MEMORY, PLASTICITY