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Effects of Aging on Musical Performance in Professional Orchestral Musicians

Dianna T. Kenny, Tim Driscoll, Bronwen J. Ackermann
From: Medical Problems of Performing Artists: Volume 33 Number 1: Page 39 (March 2018)

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Abstract: BACKGROUND: The physical and psychological demands of playing a musical instrument are likely to be affected by age-related decline in function, including physical, cognitive, psychological, and organ-related changes. However, the complex neurophysiological demands of playing a musical instrument may delay many normal aging-related changes.
AIM: This study compared professional classical musicians of different ages, using a range of physical and psychological measures, to discover how increasing age might affect work performance and to identify possible risk and protective factors for physical and psychological health as the musicians age.
SUBJECTS: 377 professional orchestral musicians from eight Australian orchestras (70% response rate), ages 18 to 68 yrs (mean 42.1). Multiple standardized physical and psychological tools were used to evaluate the impact of age on a range of physical and mental health variables.
RESULTS: Age was not statistically associated with frequency or severity of performance-related musculoskeletal disorders, ratings of perceived exertion, QuickDASH scores, use of beta-blockers, workplace satisfaction, and most psychological tests. Differences were observed on SPIN (social anxiety) scores, with lowest scores in the oldest age group (10.66 in 55+ yrs vs 17.83 in 18-30 yrs, p=0.016). Older musicians had higher BMIs and fewer practice sessions per day than younger musicians and also were more likely to consume alcohol on 5+ days/wk (44% vs 9%, p=0.003).
CONCLUSION: Advancing age does not appear to exert undue negative impacts on physical and psychological health or performance capacity of professional orchestral musicians. However, dwindling numbers in the older age groups may suggest a "survivor" effect, whereby those who develop significant age-related decrements may cease professional performance at earlier ages. Longitudinal studies on the professional trajectories of professional orchestral musicians are needed to explore this question further.

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