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Aging and the Instrumental Musician

Richard J. Lederman
From: Medical Problems of Performing Artists: Volume 14 Number 2: Page 67 (June 1999)

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Abstract: Aging may have profound effects on the central and peripheral nervous systems, and this, in turn, may severely compromise the instrumental performer, who relies heavily on maintenance of the highest level of sensory perception and neuromuscular control. With advancing age, there is progressive loss of nerve cells and muscle fibers, along with a decrease in several neurotransmitters, which are vital for sensory and motor systems. While these changes have a variable impact on the normal performer, a number of age-related neurologic disorders can have a far more profound effect on the ability of the instrumental musician to perform. Stroke may interfere with the exquisite sensory motor function of the hand or lip required in instrumental performance. Alzheimer's disease can impoverish the memory as well as the emotional and cognitive aspects of musical perception and performance. Parkinson's disease may have a pronounced influence on the required fine motor control of the hand or lip, even in its earliest stages before more obvious deficits become apparent. Spinal radiculopathies, particularly in the cervical region, not only can produce axial and limb pain but can again compromise sensory and motor function. Nerve entrapments, particularly carpal tunnel syndrome, may produce both pain and sensory motor impairment, particularly while playing an instrument. The health care practitioner must be aware of the effects of normal aging as well as the age-related illnesses that may affect the instrumental performer, particularly as the aging population dramatically increases over the coming decades.

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