Most people like music. Many people love music. Then there are those that actually have musical talent and have enjoyed living their lives as musicians. There has been much research over the last few years as to the effects that exposure to music has with regard to speech understanding in noise.
As we age, we have a slower response to speech than younger people. Older musicians pick up the speech signal as quick as a younger person. Actually at the same speed. (Neurobial Aging 2012;331(7)) Older adults who have had musical training have more accurate responses to speech than a non musician of the same age.
We actually do not hear with our ears. We hear with our brains. The current research is validating the importance to music in our environment. Cognitive abilities, neural processing and many other factors contribute to how well someone can understand in a noise environment. Musical training is a new approach that helps the brain to strengthen its neural processing abilities enabling better speech understanding in noise. A study (J. Neurosci. 2015;35(3):1240)., shows that older adult musicians show stronger functional connections between multiple auditory areas in the brain. This means that musical training does in fact strengthen the brains mechanisms the support our auditory processing, including in a noisy environment.
So what if you are not a musician? Maybe just a normal retiree? Will exposure to music later in life help to strengthen our brain as well? Well research in ongoing. There is evidence that musical training later in life is helping to strengthen our speech processing pathways. If you play an instrument, or want to take up playing an instrument, or maybe you are a singer then you should routinely practice your skills. Playing an instrument requires a lot of cognitive involvement. Skills such as working memory, attention ability, rhythm, hand to eye coordination.
Our hearing is connected to many important parts of our body and our life. It is connected to feeling, thinking, and moving. Because of the “moving” ingredient there are also studies being done to connect the dots between musical training and falling. Musical training provides emotional, cognitive, and sensorimotor improvements. If you have a group of friends that play musical instruments it also promotes “socialization” which we all know is necessary to ward off dementia.
So... if you have a musical instrument, pull it out of the closet, if you don’t.. go take some lessons, and have some fun. Belt out a tune, do it with a friend or a group and made it a habit. Turn on the radio. Stimulate your brains and improve your speech understanding in noise. To Hear Better Is To Live Better!