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Brain Health

Music Can Hurt Your Memory

Music, widely known as a good destresser, may actually make memory worse in older people, researchers have found.

The study, from the Georgia Institute of Technology, asked younger and older people to listen to music while trying to remember names. The older adults remembered 10 percent fewer names than younger people when they listened to background music or musical rain as compared to silence, according to a news release from the institute.

The investigators asked participants to look at a series of faces and names and were asked if the person “looked like” the name they had been given. A few minutes later participants were shown the faces  again and were asked the name. At times, the participants responded to questions in a silent atmosphere; at other times, they were listening to musical rain or lesser-known songs from Eric Clapton, Jefferson Airplane and Rush.

“Both age groups agreed that the music was distracting,” said Sarah Reaves, the Georgia Tech psychology graduate student who led the study. “But only the older adults struggled while it was playing in the background.”

Psychology Assistant Professor Audrey Duarte, who oversees Georgia Tech’s Memory and Aging Lab, said that older adults “have trouble ignoring irrelevant noises and concentrating. Associative memory also declines with age. As we get older, it’s harder to remember what name went with a face or where a conversation took place.”

Reaves said that the finding could help people who plan activities in assisted-living centers.

“Maybe employees should turn off music during learning activities or hold them in a quiet room,” she said. “Similarly, older adults who struggle to concentrate while meeting with co-workers at a coffee shop, for example, should schedule meetings in quieter locations. When people get lost while driving, it’s probably best to turn off the radio.”

The study was published in the journal The Gerontologist.

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