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REF NO.: 17

SUBJECT: Music lessons improve seniors' hearing, says Canada Research Chair

DATE: Oct. 22

A Faculty of Medicine researcher has discovered that older adults hear better when they are musically trained.
 
Dr. Ben Zendel, Canada Research Chair in Aging and Auditory Neuroscience at Memorial, says hearing issues are one of the most commonly reported health problems in older adults. 

According to research, older adults report no difficulty with hearing when in a quiet room. But – hearing and understanding speech is much more difficult when they are in a noisy environment. 
 
Previous research has proven that older musicians are better able to understand speech in noise compared to older non-musicians due to enhanced brain responses related to both speech processing and the deployment of attention.

Dr. Zendel wanted to know if this could apply to older adults who’ve never had a music lesson.

Potential for auditory rehabilitation
 
A sample of older adults was randomly assigned to learn to play piano, to learn to play a video game or to do nothing.
 
After six months of music training, the research team found that older adults were better able to understand speech in background noise.  
 
“We think music training strengthens the connections between the auditory and motor system and that facilitates speech understanding,” Dr. Zendel said. 

He also says there is evidence that the motor system is involved in speech perception by trying to mimic the oral articulation that would be needed to produce a speech sound.

Dr. Zendel thinks music training strengthens this speech motor system, which in turn improves the ability to understand speech in loud background noise.
 
“These findings suggest that musical training could be used as a foundation to develop auditory rehabilitation programs for older adults.”

 

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For more information, please contact Michelle Osmond, communications advisor, Faculty of Medicine, at michelle.osmond@med.mun.ca or (709) 728-2364.

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