Music training has biological impact on aging process

January 30, 2012, Northwestern University

Age-related delays in neural timing are not inevitable and can be avoided or offset with musical training, according to a new study from Northwestern University. The study is the first to provide biological evidence that lifelong musical experience has an impact on the aging process.

Measuring the automatic of younger and older musicians and non-musicians to speech sounds, researchers in the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory discovered that older musicians had a distinct neural timing advantage.

"The older musicians not only outperformed their older non-musician counterparts, they encoded the sound stimuli as quickly and accurately as the younger non-musicians," said Northwestern neuroscientist Nina Kraus. "This reinforces the idea that how we actively experience sound over the course of our lives has a profound effect on how our nervous system functions."

Kraus, professor of communication sciences in the School of Communication and professor of neurobiology and physiology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, is co-author of " offsets age-related delays in neural timing" published online in the journal Neurobiology of Aging.

"These are very interesting and important findings," said Don Caspary, a nationally known researcher on age-related hearing loss at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine. "They support the idea that the brain can be trained to overcome, in part, some age-related hearing loss."

"The new Northwestern data, with recent animal data from Michael Merzenich and his colleagues at University of California, San Francisco, strongly suggest that intensive training even late in life could improve speech processing in older adults and, as a result, improve their ability to communicate in complex, noisy acoustic environments," Caspary added.

Previous studies from Kraus' Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory suggest that musical training also offset losses in memory and difficulties hearing speech in noise -- two common complaints of older adults. The lab has been extensively studying the effects of musical experience on brain plasticity across the life span in normal and clinical populations, and in educational settings.

However, Kraus warns that the current study's findings were not pervasive and do not demonstrate that musician's have a neural timing advantage in every neural response to sound. "Instead, this study showed that musical experience selectively affected the timing of sound elements that are important in distinguishing one consonant from another."

The automatic neural responses to speech sounds delivered to 87 normal-hearing, native English-speaking adults were measured as they watched a captioned video. "Musician" participants began musical training before age 9 and engaged consistently in musical activities through their lives, while "non-musicians" had three years or less of .

Explore further: Musical experience offsets some aging effects

Related Stories

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 ...

Science finding is music to the ears

September 13, 2011
A study led by Canadian researchers has found the first evidence that lifelong musicians experience less age-related hearing problems than non-musicians.

Recommended for you

Animal study connects fear behavior, rhythmic breathing, brain smell center

April 20, 2018
"Take a deep breath" is the mantra of every anxiety-reducing advice list ever written. And for good reason. There's increasing physiological evidence connecting breathing patterns with the brain regions that control mood ...

Mechanism behind neuron death in motor neurone disease and frontotemporal dementia discovered

April 20, 2018
Scientists have identified the molecular mechanism that leads to the death of neurons in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as ALS or motor neurone disease) and a common form of frontotemporal dementia.

When there's an audience, people's performance improves

April 20, 2018
Often, people think performing in front of others will make them mess up, but a new study led by a Johns Hopkins University neuroscientist found the opposite: being watched makes people do better.

Signaling between neuron types found to instigate morphological changes during early neocortex development

April 20, 2018
A team of researchers from several institutions in Japan has found that developing neocortex neurons in mammals undergo a morphological transition from a multipolar shape to a bipolar shape due at least partially to signaling ...

MRI technique detects spinal cord changes in MS patients

April 20, 2018
A Vanderbilt University Medical Center-led research team has shown that magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can detect changes in resting-state spinal cord function in patients with multiple sclerosis (MS).

Gene variant increases empathy-driven fear in mice

April 20, 2018
Researchers at the Center for Cognition and Sociality, within the Institute for Basic Science (IBS), have just published as study in Neuron reporting a genetic variant that controls and increases empathy-driven fear in mice. ...

0 comments

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.