Background: Elucidating behavioral protective factors for cognitive decline and dementia can have a far-reaching impact.
Aims: To describe the association of present and past musical instrument playing with cognitive function in cognitively intact older adults.
Method: A post hoc observational analysis of the Zurich Disability Prevention Trial. Past and present musical instrument playing was correlated with Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) and EuroQol-Visual Analogue Scale (EQ-VAS) using linear regression at baseline and mixed-model linear regression over 1 year.
Results: Two hundred community dwelling adults age 70 and older (mean age 77.7) were included. There were 48.5% (97/200) participants, who ever played a musical instrument; 35% (70/200) played in the past and 13.5% (27/200) played at present. At baseline, present players had a suggestively higher adjusted-MMSE than never players (28.9 vs. 28.5, p value 0.059). Over 12 months, compared to never players, ever players showed a significantly better improvement from baseline in adjusted-MMSE (0.29 vs. - 0.12, p value 0.007). The association remained significant even after restricting to participants without higher education (p value 0.03). Over time, no differences were observed for EQ-VAS (p value 0.45). However, past players had the largest decline in health-related quality of life at 12 months.
Discussion: The support for a protective association in our observational study suggests the need for clinical trials to examine the effect of playing a musical instrument on cognitive function and decline. Both returning to play after an interruption and learning to play from the beginning should be examined.
Conclusions: Present and past musical instrument playing may assist in preserving cognitive function in community-dwelling older adults.