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Lifelong musicians 'hear better'

Friday September 16th 2011

People who have played a musical instrument throughout their lives may be better protected against hearing problems in old age, new research suggests.

Since they make use of the hearing centres of their brain on a regular basis, lifelong musicians may be able to stave off age-related decline in their speech processing ability by up to 20 years.

Canadian researchers focused on a perception issue called the "cocktail party problem" where people find it difficult to understand speech because of background noise.

They found that the ability of a musician aged 70 to follow a conversation in a noisy environment is equivalent to that of the average 50-year-old who does not play any instrument.

A musician was defined in the study as someone who has received formal training in music for at least six years and has been practising music regularly since the age of 16.

Researchers Baycrest's Rotman Research Institute in Toronto examined the hearing of 74 musicians ranging in ages from 19 to 91, and 89 non-musicians between 18 and 86 years old.

"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," said study leader Benjamin Rich Zendel. "This advantage widened considerably for musicians as they got older when compared to similar-aged non-musicians."

Findings from the study are published in the journal Psychology and Aging.

Copyright © Press Association 2011

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