Playing for time: Can music stave off dementia?

Story highlights

  • Researchers are looking at music playing as a possible prevention of dementia
  • By 2050, number of Americans 65 and older with Alzheimer's expected to triple nearly
  • More study is needed to assess the benefits of music playing in the aging population
  • Listening to music can calm dementia patients or stimulate them, experts say
At 101, Frank Iacono still plays the violin. The concertmaster for the Providence Civic Orchestra of Senior Citizens in Rhode Island, he particularly enjoys playing polkas and jigs.
"It keeps my mind active, and it gives me a lot of pleasure," Iacono said.
The orchestra's executive director and co-founder, Vito Saritelli, said Iacono is extremely sharp for his age.
"Music has played a good part of his longevity," said his wife, Mary Iacono, 94. "We're blessed that we're both in good health."
As scientists race to figure out how to promote healthy aging of the brain, and prevent dementia, their preliminary advice for senior citizens has become a chorus of voices: "Stay active! Have hobbies! Be socially engaged!"
Playing music, for some people, is a natural answer to all of those recommendations. Frank Iacono, for instance, has been playing violin since he was 13 -- just because he loves it.
But does music playing in particular stave off dementia? What about just listening to music? How many years do you need to engage in music before it benefits your brain?