Posted on Nov 22, 2013, 6 a.m.
Older adults who took music lessons during childhood are faster at responding to speech.
Declines in nervous system functioning are common with aging, with the human auditory system experiencing timing delays in responding to speech. As a result, many older adults experience difficulty understanding speech, especially in challenging listening environments. Nina Kraus, from Northwestern University (Illinois, USA), and colleagues studied 44 healthy adults, ages 55 to 76 years, who were asked to listen to a synthesized speech syllable while researchers measured electrical activity in the auditory brainstem, the region of the brain responsible for processing sound and is a central area for sensory information. The team did discover that, despite none of the study participants having played an instrument in nearly 40 years, those subjects who completed 4 to 14 years of music training early in life had the fastest response to the test speech sound. Specifically, older adults who took music lessons responded a millisecond faster than those without music training. Submitting that: "We suggest that early music training sets the stage for subsequent interactions with sound,” the study authors conclude that: "These experiences may interact over time to sustain sharpened neural processing in central auditory nuclei well into older age.”
White-Schwoch T, Carr KW, Anderson S, Strait DL, Kraus N. “Older adults benefit from music training early in life: biological evidence for long-term training-driven plasticity.” J Neurosci. 2013 Nov 6;33(45):17667-74.