Musicians 'enjoy better hearing'
Published 13/09/2011 | 16:56
Lifelong musicians experience fewer hearing problems in old age than non-musicians, a study has found.
Continuously playing an instrument from the age of 16 helps lessen what the researchers called the common "cocktail party problem", where older people find it difficult to pick up speech when there is background noise.
The average 70-year old musician can understand speech in a noisy environment as well as the average 50-year old non-musician, according to the study by Baycrest's Rotman Research Institute in Toronto, Canada.
Musicians use the brain's hearing systems at a consistently higher level, helping to delay age-related decline by 20 years.
Lead investigator Benjamin Rich Zendel said: "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."
The research found that musicians were considerably better at detecting gaps in continuous sound, the relationship between different sound frequencies and hearing a spoken sentence in the presence of background noise.
In the study, 74 musicians (aged 19-91) and 89 non-musicians (aged 18-86) took part in a series of assessments.
A musician was defined as someone who started musical training by the age of 16, continued practising music until the day of testing, and had an equivalent of at least six years of formal music lessons.
Non-musicians in the study, which was published in the journal Psychology and Aging, did not play any musical instrument.