Turn down for what?! Music impairs memory in older people

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Music affects older adults ability to remember names and faces Image credit: http://b.gatech.edu/1GaWaYz
Music affects older adults ability to remember names and faces Image credit: http://b.gatech.edu/1GaWaYz

A new study by researchers at Georgia Tech University shows that music impairs older adults’ ability to remember names and faces. According to them, music may help some people relax when they are trying to concentrate. But it doesn’t help them remember what they are focussing on, especially as they get older.

A sample of faces and names for participants. Participants were first asked if the name looked like the face. They were later asked if the face-name combinations were the same. Image courtesy of Georgia Institute of Technology
A sample of faces and names for participants. Participants were first asked if the name looked like the face. They were later asked if the face-name combinations were the same. Image courtesy of Georgia Institute of Technology

As a part of the experiment, they challenged younger and older adults to listen to music while trying to remember names. A sample of faces and names were provided for all the participants. Then, the participants were asked if the person ‘looked like’ the assigned name. All this, while listening to background music or musical rain as compared to some who did the test in silence. The faces were shown again a few minutes later. Participants had to determine whether the name and face combinations were the same as before.

Younger and college-aged participants had no problems in recollecting, and it showed that music didn’t affect their performance. But, older adults remembered 10 percent fewer names when listening to background music. This study also tested the effects on associative memory, which includes the ability to put a face with a name and remember it.

“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”.

“Older adults have trouble ignoring irrelevant noises and concentrating,” says Duarte, who oversees Georgia Tech’s Memory and Aging Lab. “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.” This study may help plan activities for older adults living in assisted living centers or while deciding the venue for a meeting.

Reaves notes, “They should be mindful of their surroundings. 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 above article was based on materials from here.

The original publication can be accessed here.