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Why it's harder to learn an instrument the older you get

Laura  Barnes
Why it's harder to learn an instrument the older you get

Scientists have discovered why older people find learning an instrument more difficult, and how a new process could potentially make it easier.

Jay Blundon and his colleagues at St Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee recently discovered that levels of a chemical called adenosine in the part of the brain called the thalamus, rise as mice age.

The thalamus is a part of the brain involved in sensory processing, so as the level of adenosine increases, it activates a pathway that impairs learning in the brain’s auditory cortex.

The study found that when old mice are played two tones that are close in pitch, they are unable to tell the difference between them.
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Researchers believe that this relates to how the human brain works as it ages. The older you are, generally, the harder it is to pick up new skills such as learning a new language or a musical instrument.

Brand new research from the team has revealed that using genetic tools or drugs to reduce adenosine signalling makes the mice able to tell the difference, meaning we could see a new drug in the future that can help older musicians, and even those with hearing impairments, to be able to better distinguish between certain tones.

When the scientists blocked adenosine signalling, they found an increase in the number of neurons in the auditory cortex that responded to sounds.

The process is called neuroplasticity. Blundon and his colleagues are now investigating whether there are ways to precisely control the adenosine pathway so that clinical treatments can be developed.

Read more about the research here.

Tags: hearing , learning an instrument , scientific research

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