Ditch the Hearing Aid and Learn Music

Hearing loss in older adults can be combated with musical training

(RxWiki News) Music is the artist’s window to the emotional soul. But this art isn’t all love songs and dance music - it can have very practical uses in combating hearing loss.

New research suggests that people who have musical training have a faster neurological responses to speech in the brain.

This has a direct correlation to the ability to hear and understand speech, especially against a noisy background.

"It is never too late to start learning about music"

Nina Kraus, Ph.D, of the Auditory Neuroscience Lab at Northwestern University, led the first study to provide biological evidence that musical training has a direct impact on the aging process of the nervous system.

Musicians and non-musicians of various age groups were monitored as they watched a captioned video of speech sounds. The older non-musicians showed a slowed automatic neural response. The musicians did not.

"The older musicians not only outperformed their older non-musician counterparts, they encoded the sound stimuli as quickly and accurately as the younger non-musicians," says Kraus. "This reinforces the idea that how we actively experience sound over the course of our lives has a profound effect on how our nervous system functions."

However, Kraus stresses that that this study does not imply that musicians have quicker neural timing in every neural response to sound. “This study showed that musical experience selectively affected the timing of sound elements that are important in distinguishing one consonant from another."

Don Caspary, Ph.D., hearing loss researcher from Southern Illinois University, notes that "The new Northwestern data, with recent animal data from Michael Merzenich and his colleagues at University of California, San Francisco, strongly suggest that intensive training even late in life could improve speech processing in older adults and, as a result, improve their ability to communicate in complex, noisy acoustic environments."

87 native English speaking adults with normal hearing were tested. The musicians began musical training before age 9 and continued with musical projects throughout life. The non-musicians had 3 years or less of musical training.

The study was published online in the journal Neurobiology of Aging on Jan. 9th, 2012.

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Review Date: 
January 31, 2012