Older musicians experience less age-related decline in hearing abilities than non-musicians

September 14, 2011

Science Daily/Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care

A study led by Canadian researchers has found the first evidence that lifelong musicians experience less age-related hearing problems than non-musicians. While hearing studies have already shown that trained musicians have highly developed auditory abilities compared to non-musicians, this is the first study to examine hearing abilities in musicians and non-musicians across the age spectrum -- from 18 to 91 years of age.

 

While hearing studies have already shown that trained musicians have highly developed auditory abilities compared to non-musicians, this is the first study to examine hearing abilities in musicians and non-musicians across the age spectrum -- from 18 to 91 years of age.

 

"What we found was that being a musician may contribute to better hearing in old age by delaying some of the age-related changes in central auditory processing. This advantage widened considerably for musicians as they got older when compared to similar-aged non-musicians," said lead investigator Benjamin Rich Zendel at Baycrest's Rotman Research Institute..

 

Scientists found that being a musician did not offer any advantage in the pure-tone thresholds test, across the age span. However, in the three other auditory tasks -- mistuned harmonic detection, gap detection and speech-in-noise -- musicians showed a clear advantage over non-musicians and this advantage gap widened as both groups got older. By age 70, the average musician was able to understand speech in a noisy environment as well as an average 50 year old non-musician, suggesting that lifelong musicianship can delay this age-related decline by 20 years.

 

Most importantly, the three assessments where musicians demonstrated an advantage all rely on auditory processing in the brain, while pure-tone thresholds do not. This suggests that lifelong musicianship mitigates age-related changes in the brains of musicians, which is probably due to musicians using their auditory systems at a high level on a regular basis. In other words, "use it or lose it."

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110913091557.htm

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