Musical experience offsets some aging effects

May 11, 2011

(Medical Xpress) -- A growing body of research finds musical training gives students learning advantages in the classroom. Now a Northwestern University study finds musical training can benefit Grandma, too, by offsetting some of the deleterious effects of aging.

"Lifelong appears to confer advantages in at least two important functions known to decline with age -- memory and the ability to hear speech in noise," says Nina Kraus, director of the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory and co-author of the study in the May 11 issue of the online science journal .

Co-written by Northwestern researchers Alexandra Parbery-Clark, Dana Strait, Samira Anderson, Emily Hittner and Kraus, "Musical Experience and the Aging " finds that -- when compared to their non-musician counterparts -- musicians 45- to 65-years-old excel in auditory memory and the ability to hear speech in .

"Difficulty hearing speech in noise is among the most common complaints of , but age-related only partially accounts for this impediment that can lead to and depression," says Kraus. "It's well known that adults with virtually the same hearing profile can differ dramatically in their ability to hear speech in noise."

To find out why, the researchers in Kraus' Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory in Northwestern's School of Communication tested 18 musicians and 19 non-musicians aged 45 to 65 for speech in noise, auditory working memory, visual working memory and auditory temporal processing.

The musicians – who began playing an instrument at age 9 or earlier and consistently played an instrument throughout their lives – bested the non-musician group in all but visual , where both groups showed nearly identical ability.

The experience of extracting meaningful sounds from a complex soundscape -- and of remembering sound sequences – enhances the development of auditory skills, says Kraus, Hugh Knowles Chair in Communication Sciences.

"The neural enhancements we see in musically-trained individuals are not just an amplifying or 'volume knob' effect," says Kraus, who also is professor of neurobiology and physiology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. "Playing music engages their ability to extract relevant patterns, including the sound of their own instrument, harmonies and rhythms."

Music training "fine-tunes" the nervous system, according to Kraus, a longtime advocate of music in the K-12 curriculum. "Sound is the stock in trade of the musician in much the same way that a painter of portraits is keenly attuned to the visual attributes of the paint that will convey his or her subject," Kraus says.

"If the materials that you work with are sound, then it is reasonable to suppose that all of your faculties involved with taking it in, holding it in memory and relating physically to it should be sharpened," Kraus adds. "Music experience bolsters the elements that combat age-related communication problems."

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Hibernating ground squirrels provide clues to new stroke treatments

November 17, 2017
In the fight against brain damage caused by stroke, researchers have turned to an unlikely source of inspiration: hibernating ground squirrels.

Age and gut bacteria contribute to multiple sclerosis disease progression

November 17, 2017
Researchers at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School published a study suggesting that gut bacteria at young age can contribute to multiple sclerosis (MS) disease onset and progression.

Molecular guardian defends cells, organs against excess cholesterol

November 16, 2017
A team of researchers at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health has illuminated a critical player in cholesterol metabolism that acts as a molecular guardian in cells to help maintain cholesterol levels within a safe, ...

Prototype ear plug sensor could improve monitoring of vital signs

November 16, 2017
Scientists have developed a sensor that fits in the ear, with the aim of monitoring the heart, brain and lungs functions for health and fitness.

Ancient enzyme could boost power of liquid biopsies to detect and profile cancers

November 16, 2017
Scientists are developing a set of medical tests called liquid biopsies that can rapidly detect the presence of cancers, infectious diseases and other conditions from only a small blood sample. Researchers at The University ...

FDA to crack down on risky stem cell offerings

November 16, 2017
U.S. health authorities announced plans Thursday to crack down on doctors pushing stem cell procedures that pose the gravest risks to patients amid an effort to police a burgeoning medical field that previously has received ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Isaacsname
not rated yet May 12, 2011
Let's not forget the fact that people also listen to music very differently in the span of the past 2-3 generations. Loud music became a fad only recently as did headphones. I would posit that the " car stereo thumpers " of today will be the " practically deaf by 50 or earlier " crowd. And headphones,..what about standing waves in the ear canal ? That doesn't have a detrimental effect from long-term use ?

Forgive me, I'm a complete idiot when it comes to science.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.