Music-making is a widespread leisure and professional activity that has garnered interest over the years due to its effect on brain and cognitive development and its potential as a rehabilitative and restorative therapy of brain dysfunctions. We investigated whether music-making has a potential age-protecting effect on the brain. For this, we studied anatomical magnetic resonance images obtained from three matched groups of subjects who differed in their lifetime dose of music-making activities (i.e., professional musicians, amateur musicians, and non-musicians). For each subject, we calculated a so-called BrainAGE score which corresponds to the discrepancy (in years) between chronological age and the "age of the brain", with negative values reflecting an age-decelerating brain and positive values an age-accelerating brain, respectively. The index of "brain age" was estimated using a machine-learning algorithm that was trained in a large independent sample to identify anatomical correlates of brain-aging. Compared to non-musicians, musicians overall had lower BrainAGE scores, with amateur musicians having the lowest scores suggesting that music-making has an age-decelerating effect on the brain. Unlike the amateur musicians, the professional musicians showed a positive correlation between their BrainAGE scores and years of music-making, possibly indicating that engaging more intensely in just one otherwise enriching activity might not be as beneficial than if the activity is one of several that an amateur musician engages in. Intense music-making activities at a professional level could also lead to stress-related interferences and a less enriched environment than that of amateur musicians, possibly somewhat diminishing the otherwise positive effect of music-making.
Keywords: Aging; BrainAGE; Enrichment; Machine-learning; Music; Plasticity.