Having musical lessons as a child helps to boost the brain well into adult life, researchers claim.
A study conducted at the Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois found that people who had learned to play an instrument had faster brain responses than those who had not.
Even those who had not picked up an instrument in a long time fared better than normal.
The study, which was published in the Journal of Neuroscience, looked at 44 people in their 50s, 60s and 70s. Each listened to a synthesised "da" sound and the electrical activity in their brains was measured as it processed the syllable.
None of the volunteers had played an instrument in almost four decades, but those who had received between four and 14 years of musical training had much faster response times.
Michael Kilgard, who led the study, said: "Being a millisecond faster may not seem like much, but the brain is very sensitive to timing and a millisecond compounded over millions of neurons can make a real difference in the lives of older adults."
People's responses to fast-changing noises typically decrease as they get older, but Dr Kilgard believes that musical training can help to offset this problem.
Previous studies have found that children listen to instructions better if they have some experience of playing an instrument. Music can also be used as a way of treating people living with dementia.
While it is by no means a cure for the cognitive condition, music has the power to help people recall memories that they would not be able to talk about in normal discussion. It can also have a soothing effect.
The Alzheimer's Society has launched a programme called 'Singing for the Brain'. It runs at more than 30 locations across the country and is designed to help improve confidence, self-esteem and communication by getting dementia patients and their carers to engage in interactive singing sessions.
Read more about Barchester's dementia care homes.