Posted on May 27, 2011, 6 a.m.
Northwestern University (US) researchers report that musicians are more likely to keep their memories active, as well as their hearing intact.
In that much of our daily communication occurs in the presence of background noise, compromising our ability to hear, the ability to understand speech in noise is a challenge that becomes increasingly difficult as we age. Nina Kraus, from the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at Northwestern University (Illinois, USA), and colleagues enrolled 18 musicians and 19 non-musicians, ages 45 to 65 years, in a study in which each subject completed a number of tests for speech in noise, memory and processing ability. The team observed that the musicians – who began playing an instrument at age nine or earlier and consistently played an instrument throughout their lives – beat the nonmusician group in all tests, except one where they showed nearly identical ability. Speculating that the experience of extracting meaningful sounds from a complex soundscape – and of remembering sound sequences – enhances the development of auditory skills, the researchers posit that musical training helps the brain to be more adaptable to aging and make adjustments for declines in the ability to remember, or ability to separate speech from background noise. Writing that: “older musicians demonstrated enhanced speech-in-noise perception relative to nonmusicians along with greater auditory … working memory capacity,” the team concludes that: “Our results imply that musical training may reduce the impact of age-related auditory decline.”
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Alexandra Parbery-Clark, Dana L. Strait, Samira Anderson, Emily Hittner, Nina Kraus. “Musical Experience and the Aging Auditory System: Implications for Cognitive Abilities and Hearing Speech in Noise.” PLoS ONE, 11 May 2011.