Harvard Men's Health Watch

Distracting music may trip up older memories

Distracting background music could make certain memory tasks more challenging for aging brains, suggests a study in The Gerontologist. The study involved one group of participants ages 18 to 30 and another ages 60 to 75. They studied images of faces paired with names on a computer screen, either in silence or while listening to instrumental music. Later they had to recall the name-face pairs while listening to music.

The music had no effect on test scores in the younger people. In contrast, the older people remembered 10% fewer names learned when listening to background music, compared with studying in silence.

Previous studies have shown that with aging, the brain tends to have more trouble shutting out distracting information. This study suggests that background music could contribute to increased memory impairment in older people.

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