How is Musical Activity Associated with Cognitive Ability in Later Life?

Ryan Gray, Alan J. Gow

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)
194 Downloads (Pure)


Research has suggested that individuals who play a musical instrument throughout adulthood have better preserved executive function. However, mixed results have been found for associations between musical activity and visuo-spatial abilities, and less is known about associations with fluid intelligence. We explored differences between musicians (N = 30) and non-musicians (N = 30) aged 60–93 years old across a range of neuropsychological measures of cognitive function. Musicians performed significantly better than non-musicians on all domains, which remained after adjusting for age, gender, educational history, languages spoken and physical activity. As a cross-sectional comparison, the results should not be overstated; however, they are consistent with findings suggesting learning a musical instrument throughout the life course may be associated with cognitive benefits. Identifying potential lifestyle factors that have cognitive benefits in later life, such as musical experience, is an important step in developing intervention strategies for cognitive aging.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)617-635
Number of pages19
JournalAging, Neuropsychology, and Cognition
Issue number4
Early online date24 Sept 2019
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jul 2020


  • Musical ability
  • cognitive ability
  • cognitive aging
  • musical experience
  • old age

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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