Researchers have referred to Michael Merzenich as the “father of plasticity” because he enjoyed a long career that established that the human brain is highly plastic and that led Merzenich to develop science-based novel interventions to drive improvements. Because of her decades of research preceding that of Merzenich, let us consider Marian Diamond to be the “mother of neuroplasticity.” Her work influenced a paradigm shift for scientists when she was the first to prove that the brain shrinks with impoverishment and grows in an enriched environment at any age (Diamond et al., 1971, 1984; Malkasian and Diamond, 1971).
Fred Gage brought science another paradigm shift with the proof of neurogenesis in humans (Eriksson et al., 1998); showing how animals could sustain fivefold induction of neurogenesis (Kempermann et al., 2002); demonstration of how humans can increase neurogenesis (Pereira et al., 2007); and using human induced pluripotent stem cells to model neurogenesis in the hippocampus (Yu et al., 2014). Richard Davidson’s research found that thought alone was associated with neuroplastic gains (Davidson and Lutz, 2008; Davidson and McEwen, 2012) and improved immune response (Davidson et al., 2003; Kaliman et al., 2014).
There is a growing corpus of literature on ways to drive brain plasticity in a positive direction that could contribute more powerfully in strategies of intervention for healing and enhancement of function than would research on what drives loss. These findings coupled with recent neuroscience clearly showing the potential for improving brain plasticity (Goh and Park, 2009) could give humans unprecedented hope for personal empowerment. Neuroplasticity research has fleshed out what these chemical, anatomical, and performance gains could include.
Music is a complex and multisensory form of enrichment that has a positive influence on neuroplasticity in several regions of the brain because it requires integration of audiovisual information as well as appreciation of abstract rules (Paraskevopoulos et al., 2012; Kuchenbuch et al., 2014). Magnetoencephalography measures with individuals with an average age of 26.45 found that the anterior prefrontal cortex played a central role and that the neuroplastic response was greater in musicians with long term training than was noted in those with short term training (Paraskevopoulos et al., 2014). After 4 months of piano lessons, people aged 60–84 years enjoyed improved mood as well as significant improvements in the cognitive skills of attention, control, motor function, visual scanning, and executive functioning (Seinfeld et al., 2013).
Despite the dramatic reductions in hippocampus-dependent function that accompany advancing age, there is also striking evidence that even the aged brain retains a high level of plasticity. Thus, one promising avenue to reach the goal of successful aging might be to boost and recruit this plasticity, which is the interplay between neural structure, function, and experience, to prevent age-related cognitive decline and age-associated comorbidities.”