Life-long musicians have better hearing

If you have been playing the guitar since you were a teenager, you should have no trouble following a conversation in a noisy restaurant when you are in your seventies, according to the findings of a recent Baycrest study.

Published in the journal Psychology and Aging, the study found that life-long musicians experience far fewer age-related hearing problems compared to non-musicians. While earlier hearing studies have already shown that trained musicians have highly developed auditory abilities, this is the first one to examine these abilities in musicians and non-musicians across the age spectrum — from 18 to 91.

Hearing problems are prevalent in the elderly, who often report that they cannot follow what is being said when in the presence of background noise. Scientists describe this as the “cocktail party problem.” This is due in part to an age-related decrease in the ability to detect and discriminate acoustic information from the environment.

“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,” explained lead investigator Benjamin Zendel, who conducted the study while working on a doctorate at Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute. “This advantage widened considerably for musicians as they got older when compared to similar-aged non-musicians.”

By age 70, the average musician in the study 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.

Photo © Edward Bock

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