Aging is associated with deterioration of skilled manual movement. Specifically, aging corresponds with increased reaction time, greater movement duration, segmentation of movement, increased movement variability, and reduced ability to adapt to external forces and inhibit previously learned sequences. Moreover, it is thought that decreased lateralization of neural function in older adults may point to increased neural recruitment as a compensatory response to deterioration of key frontal and intra-hemispheric networks, particularly of callosal structures. However, factors that mediate age-related motor decline are not well understood. Here we show that music training in childhood is associated with reduced age-related decline of bimanual and unimanual motor skills in a MIDI keyboard motor learning task. Compared to older adults without music training, older adults with more than a year of music training demonstrated proficient bimanual and unimanual movement, evidenced by enhanced speed and decreased movement errors. Further, this group demonstrated significantly better implicit learning in the weather prediction task, a non-motor task. The performance of older adults with music training in those tasks was comparable to young adults. Older adults, however, displayed greater verbal ability compared to young adults irrespective of a past history of music training. Our results indicate that music training early in life may reduce age-associated decline of neural motor and cognitive networks.
Keywords: bimanual motor skill; implicit learning; keyboard; motor coordination; music training; piano; verbal ability; weather prediction task.